Starring Jesse Griffiths, Adrian Morningstar. Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Brendan McMurtry-Howlett. Withrow Park (Riverdale), to Sept. 2.
New troupe Shakespeare in the Ruff has taken over a grassy slope in Withrow Park and made a delightful debut with a frontier-themed take on the Bard’s early rom-com, The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Two Gents is set in 1880s Canada, where the two friends of the title ride the new railway out west from Verona, Ontario, to Milan, Manitoba. There, Valentine (Jesse Griffiths) falls for the local beauty, Silvia (Kaitlyn Riordan). Unfortunately, so does his buddy Proteus (Adrian Morningstar)—in the process forgetting Julia (Lesley Robertson), his supposed true love back home.
Elopement schemes, adventures with outlaws, and, inevitably, cross-dressing ensue. So do plenty of laughs, courtesy of servant/clowns Speed (David Patrick Flemming) and Launce (Andrew Joseph Richardson), and Launce’s mangy mutt. Brendan McMurtry-Howlett directs at a cracking pace, which makes the multiple-role playing by his seven-member cast all the more impressive.
The company’s boldest stroke, however, is to rewrite the play’s sexist ending, cannily replacing it with one of Shakespeare’s best-known sonnets. It displays an ingenuity that bodes well for future shows.