The stage looks like a garage band’s rehearsal room. The performers could be Gap ad models. And the story is so 21st century.
Just when you thought there was nothing new under the Shakespearean sun, along comes “The Verona Project.” Amanda Dehnert’s new theater piece reimagines Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” in bracingly contemporary terms.
Part play, part alt-rock concert, the show made its world premiere Saturday in a new California Shakespeare Theater production.
Written, directed and composed by Dehnert, and featuring a vibrant eight-person cast of actor-musicians, it’s funny, freewheeling and occasionally frustrating. If it doesn’t hang together for its full running time, it still manages to suggest the youthful charm of a summer fling.
Dehnert’s show isn’t just a lark, however. It deftly solves several of the problems inherent in “Two Gents,” long considered one of Shakespeare’s flimsiest comedies. It follows the outline of the play, about two best friends — Proteus (Dan Clegg) and Valentine (Nate Trinrud) — as they grow up and learn about love. But it invests the characters with a depth seldom seen in stagings of the original.
Dehnert expands the role of Julia, the girl who comes between Proteus and Valentine. She makes Sylvia, the girl both guys fall for, into a boy named Silvio. And she punctuates the scenes with an easy-listening score of pop, reggae, country ballads and love songs.
The staging is fluid and inventive, with set design by Daniel Ostling, lighting by David Lee Cuthbert, and costumes by Melissa Torchia enhancing Dehnert’s concept. The cast brings the characters to life with brio: Clegg and Trinrud are well-matched, and Philip Mills is an appealing Sylvio. Arwen Anderson is an agile Julia, Harold Pierce an endearing Speed, and Elena Wright strikes just the right note as the dim-bulb Thuria.
The production could use a little editing; the first half is too long, several songs drag, and the singing is uneven. Yet the show gathers feeling and momentum as it goes. In its examination of friendship, love and loss, “The Verona Project” emerges a pretty smart hybrid: a new look at Shakespeare, through a distinctly 21st-century prism.
Presented by California Shakespeare Theater
Where: Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda
When: Through July 31
Contact: (510) 548-9666, www.calshakes.org