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'Two Gentlemen of Verona' theater review -- 2.5 stars

Fiasco Theater, a small, no-frills ensemble which shot to fame with its scaled-down, streamlined, wholly straightforward adaptation of Shakespeare’s late romance “Cymbeline,” and just recently presented the musical “Into the Woods” Off-Broadway, is back again with a new production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” at Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn.

“Verona,” which may have been Shakespeare’s very first play, is a youthful, comedy about the romantic complications of two boys and two gals. Proteus, upon leaving Verona and arriving in Milan, forsakes his girlfriend Julia and his best friend Valentine by pursuing the lovely Sylvia (who is secretly engaged to Valentine).

It’s full of themes and devices found in Shakespeare’s later plays including witty servants, foolish suitors, disapproving parents, escape to the woods and a female disguising herself as a male. But it’s hard to think of any other Shakespeare play that contains a pet dog (which here is humorously played by one of the six actors, wearing a Snoopy-style snout).

Directed by Jessie Austrian (also a cast member) and Ben Steinfeld, the empty stage is surrounded by a net covered in what appear to be love letters. The actors sit quietly on benches to the side whenever they are not part of a scene.

The production is pleasant but rather bloodless. Though hardly the Bard’s deepest work, “Verona” does contain some dark undertones (Proteus nearly rapes Silvia before he is stopped by Valentine) which are here overlooked.

Zachary Fine is adorable as a sad-sack Valentine, and Austrian has great comedic chops as Julia, but Noah Brody gives a curiously blank reading of Proteus, and Emily Young is more successful as Julia’s crafty maid Lucetta than as Sylvia.

These issues aside, the troupe deserves much credit for presenting the rarely-seen play, and I hope they will keep churning out simple but imaginative productions in the years ahead.

If you go: “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” plays at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center through May 24. 262 Ashland Place.

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