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Something in The Two Gentlemen of Verona compelled director Barton Bund to play it in the vein of a Judd Apatow movie: the story of hapless losers and their shortcomings as they bumble through adulthood and responsibility. The resulting Water Works Theatre production contains much evidence in support of the notion, although whether the entirety of the play is ready for this take is less clear. However, from the silly song and dance numbers to the fluorescent design that blazes in the fading sunlight of Royal Oak's Starr Jaycee Park, the show's two and a half hours deliver a familiar flavor of contemporary humor via an unlikely channel.

Quite like the "bro" comedies that inspired it, this production finds riches in its wacky supporting characters. As the Duchess, Linda Rabin Hammell is hilariously eccentric in voice and mannerism, conducting one of the play's funniest scenes in which she catches a young troublemaker about to steal away with her daughter. Jaime Weeder and Tommy Simon are highly emphasized in their roles as conniving servants; Simon in particular has a multifaceted humor that belies uncanny control and awareness. Stephen Blackwell carefully renders man-of-few-words Thurio duller than furniture, which in itself becomes an effective punchline. Sean Paraventi plays a handful of small roles to keep the cast compact, doing his best work as secretive Eglamour. A real, live dog gets surprising stage time as Crab the Dog and reaffirms that having an animal onstage is never not funny.

Where this interpretation falters is in its depiction of love, a mainstay of the Shakespeare comedy. Per the bro comedy format, love feels like an unwelcome intrusion; however, this fails to account for the script's numerous early scenes and soliloquies that expressly concern the four main characters falling in and out of love with each other. Musings by Valentine (Kevin Young) and Proteus (Rusty Mewha) are sped through in recitation, feeling like treading water until more fun can be had. Similarly, Sara Catheryn Wolf's Julia is hardly tolerable while reveling in her initial love with Proteus; only when she assumes a disguise and becomes one of the bros does the character deepen. Only the wise, level-headed Sylvia (Jaclyn Strez) is an effective lover, mercilessly putting Proteus in his place for throwing over his old flame and remaining steadfast for Valentine. All four of the central characters turn in strong performances and gleefully revel in the later shenanigans, but the lack of emphasis on the love that fuels the plot still leaves a void.

Bund also broadens the play's exploration of female empowerment by casting women in men's roles, from the Duke to a band of outlaws, and setting the production in the liberated 1960s. With the women engaging on the same dudely level as the men, the choice is somehow more complement than contrast, giving the show as a whole a sassy lightness. Some of the period elements work quite well, like set designer Monika Essen's lipstick tubes peeking out from classical columns, and conversations via corded phones that emerge from unlikely places. Others are better on paper than in execution, most notably a distracting hula-hoop display and a locker room setting that wreaks havoc with Water Works's newly implemented body microphones. The sound design lent great psychedelic rock and funk to preshow and intermission, but the incidental music and sproingy sound effects sometimes entered into competition with (and occasionally vanquished) the dialogue.

After a rocky start establishing all that stupid love, this unexpected vision of The Two Gentlemen of Verona takes off. Its characters thoroughly enjoy setting each other up for failure, and there is plenty to laugh at as it transpires. The choices behind the production aren't universally unassailable, but the many strengths of its deeply rooted concept stay front and center, making for a happily comedic comedy executed with flair.


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