The Two Gentlemen of Verona, ShakespeareInc Theatre, at Chicago Actors Studio. This production of Shakespeare’s early comedy about two boyhood friends–Valentine, who risks his career to run away with the boss’s daughter, and Proteus, who tries to win her for himself, sacrificing friendship and his own true love–is set in 1950s America. The 16th-century class system has been replaced by a corporate hierarchy, noblemen have become executives, the upwardly mobile young people roughhouse and slow dance to Elvis ballads. And the happy ending is true June Cleaver–predicated upon a degree of female compliance that would make Gloria Steinem’s head explode.
In keeping with Chicago storefront-theater tradition, this snappy production shines in its threadbare environment. The lead performances are crisp and energetic, though the guys’ patter is often too slick. The supporting cadre of servants, fools, and thieves gets big laughs. And while crudely painted travel posters against a chipped white wall don’t begin to evoke the splendor of Milan, and unflattering duds and synthetic wigs detract from the women’s bombshell factor, all the important messages come through clearly.