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Shakespeare on the Sound ushered in its 19th year with Shakespeare's first play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona."

As always, SOTS brings a lot of verve to the production, which has an extraordinary cast and is directed by the immensely talented Claire Shannon Kelly. The story has the elements that make Shakespeare's comedies fun: love triangles, gender disguises, banishment and clownish supporting characters.

In this play, Nicholas Urda and Ben Chase are plausible as best friends Valentine and Proteus, who go their separate ways. Valentine travels to Milan, but Proteus prefers to stay home and court Julia (Medina Senghore), the girl he loves. Proteus' father, Antonio (Albert W. Baker), feels that his son is frittering away his life, and insists that he follow Valentine. In the meantime, Valentine falls in love with Lady Silvia (Katie Weiland), daughter of the Duke of Milan (Nicholas Stannard). The four young would-be lovers are accompanied by their servants, Lucetta (Iris McQuillan-Grace), Ursula (Julia Lennon), Speed (Matthew Dalton Lynch) and Launce (Tom Pecinka) (and his dog). Trouble stirs up when the Duke wants Silvia to marry the foolish Lord Thurio (Scott Watson), whom Silvia detests, and Proteus also falls in love with Silvia. Proteus' bad angel prevails and he tells the Duke that Valentine and Silvia plan to elope. The Duke catches him and banishes Valentine from Milan. Julia, meanwhile, misses Proteus and follows him to Milan, where she disguises herself as Sebastian to become Proteus' servant. You know the old saying, "To add insult to injury?" Well, she has to woo Silvia on his behalf! Add a trio of outlaws, rescue and transformation and there will be "one feast, one house, one mutual happiness." The stuff later plays are made of.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is still a very pleasant play, and the actors are truly exceptional, particularly Urda, Chase, Stannard, Watson, Baker, Lynch and Pecinka. Brian Prather's set design is delightful. The stage looks like two huge books, one of which is open sideways, and has the old-fashioned type style you expect of Shakespeare's time. Actors come in from doorways in the open book. How enchanting is that? Very enchanting, especially during the entr'acte when the clown servants dance and lip synch to music from The Marriage of Figaro. But the play is way too long. It was, after all, Shakespeare's official debut play, and he never got around to revising his work. It has a relatively short list of players, but all the cast members have to work very, very hard. This critic thinks that the director could have and should have tightened it. Act I runs one hour and 20 minutes and Act II runs 55 minutes. That's really long, but it can be cut without missing anything significant. Donald Margulies cut about 15 minutes from the revival of his play, Collected Stories. David Hirson changed La Bête from a two act play to one act, and changed the prince into a princess. It went from being a great play to an even greater play. Gordon Edelstein did a brilliant job of editing Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra at the Long Wharf Theatre in 2002, trimming it from six hours to three hours, and there was still time for a Q&A after the show. It's a hard decision, but it should be seriously considered. Quite frankly, the long scenes between the two male servants and the dog don't add to the book. That said, they are performed to perfection by Lynch, Pecinka and Oliver, the dog trained by William Berloni. As stated it's a tough call. Shakespeare wrote for his times, never imagining that centuries later, people collectively develop attention deficit disorder. Also, there are a lot of families that come to Pinkney Park to see Shakespeare on the Sound. You don't want to turn off young audiences because they get restless.

Despite the length, Brian Feinstein's original song and the Mozart chosen are lovely, as are Grier Coleman's costumes. Herrick Goldman's lighting is colorful and festive, adding charm to an already charming set. Kudos also to Willa Ratner Design for the program with its peek-a-book number 2 and complementary font. It is simple yet inviting to the treat to come.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona runs nightly at 7:30 (except Mondays) through Sunday, June 29 in Pinkney Park in Rowayton. It is wonderful to watch, with the open stage in a park that is both intimate and has nice views of the tiny town with its marina. Free, but donations welcomed. Pinkney Park is located at 1 Rowayton Avenue in Rowayton. (203) 299-1300.

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From This Author Sherry Shameer Cohen

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