.The Bard al Fresco: ‘Two Gentlemen’ comes to Mill Valley

Marin County’s venerable Curtain Theatre returns to the Old Mill Park Amphitheatre in Mill Valley for their more-or-less annual offering of Shakespeare al fresco. This year it’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, what many consider the Bard’s first (but still lesser-known) play.

If you find Shakespeare difficult to follow, fear not! The plot is fairly simple, and while it contains many of the devices seen in his later works (star-crossed lovers, rivalries, impersonation, etc.), there are not so many layers to them as to confound. It helps that right from the get-go there’s an original musical number that explains it all.  

Two BFF’s have come to crossroads in their lives. Valentine (Nic Moore) seeks to leave his home in Verona and find adventure in Milan. Proteus (Nelson Brown) plans to stick around and pursue his beloved Julia (Isabelle Grimm). In Milan, it’s love at first sight for Valentine when he spies the fair Sylvia (Gillian Eichenberger), but the Duke of Milan (Glenn Havlan) will have none of it, as he’s promised Sylvia to the foppish Thurio (Jamin Jollo). Things really get complicated when Proteus ends up being sent to Milan and also falls for the fair Sylvia. So much for his eternal love for Julia.

Add meddling servants, sword fights, bandits, dancing, a damsel locked in a tower and a dog, and you’ve got yourself a show!     

Director Steve Beecroft deftly handles all the elements and comes up with a top-notch bit of entertainment here. The cast of (mostly) veterans is well-balanced and works as a true ensemble. Brown did such good work as the fickle lover that his later appearances elicited boos from the well-engaged audience.

Appearances by servant Launce (GreyWolf) and his dog Crab (Jamin Jollo again) provide a lot of the comedy relief. At the performance I attended, they were quick to amusingly deal with some unexpected canine contributions from the audience.  

Music is always a feature at Curtain Theatre, and music director/composer Don Clark and a band of four deliver delightful original era-appropriate musical accompaniment and a few helpful expository songs.  

The Curtain Theatre production of Two Gentlemen of Verona is as approachable a production of Shakespeare as I’ve seen in a while. Pack a picnic, dress in layers and head out to the park for a very pleasant afternoon’s entertainment.

‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ runs Saturday and Sunday through Sept. 4, with a special Monday, Sept. 5 (Labor Day) performance at the Old Mill Park Amphitheater, 352 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley. All shows 2pm. Free. curtaintheatre.org

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