Welcome to a rainbow-colored world where the music of the Beatles plays all the time. “Yellow Submarine”? Good guess, but in this case, it’s Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.”
The Bard’s early comedy gets a ‘60s makeover in this summer’s Shakespeare Festival/LA presentation, directed by Ben Donenberg. Performed outdoors this weekend in the plaza at the downtown Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and next week at South Coast Botanic Garden, the presentation places Shakespeare’s tale of impetuous young lovers in an era when youth culture seized the public’s imagination. Unobtrusively layered onto Shakespeare’s 1590s original, this new context helps to sharpen its study of hormone-fueled willfulness while joyously spreading the belief that love can change the world.
Things begin with a four-man band performing the Beatles’ sweet, smooth love song “Julia,” signaling lead singer Proteus’ love for free-spirited, yoga-practicing Julia. When the song ends, Valentine, his best mate in the band, announces imminent departure for Milan and urges Proteus to join him. But Proteus is moony in love and, when left alone, reflects on his feelings in words that sound remarkably like those he was singing moments earlier in the Lennon-McCartney tune. “Thou, Julia, thou hast metamorphis’d me,” he says, “made me neglect my studies, lose my time, war with good counsel, set the world at nought; made wit with musing weak, heart sick with thought.”
He’s staying put, to be near his lady love. Or so he thinks, because his father, wanting him to experience more of the world, soon sends him packing to Milan as well.
Milan, as rendered in the cutout cartoons of Fred Duer’s set design, is home to the Hollywood sign, the Capitol Records building, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Whisky a Go Go and cars on Mulholland Drive.
There Proteus finds that Valentine has fallen in love with the sleek, strutting, go-go-booted Silvia. One look at her, and Proteus changes the name in his song to “Silvia.”
And so, the gentle-natured, “Make love, not war"-believing Proteus that actor Graham Hamilton introduced at the beginning of the story becomes a schemer who conceals his intent in words so deceptively honeyed that even the two-faced Iago would have to be impressed. Yet Hamilton, forever after engaged in a wrestling match with his conscience, prevents him from seeming a complete cad.
As the aptly named Valentine, A.K. Murtadha is goofy with lovesickness yet ever reasonable and true. As Julia and Silvia, Cheryl Tsai and Raina Simone Moore represent women united in the struggle for equal rights for all, with Tsai as a flowers-in-her-hair type who is at once idealistic and resolute, Moore as someone with the strength to carry the world on her statuesque, model-perfect shoulders.
Laughter ripples through the night air as Travis Vaden and Anthony Manough weep, tease and roar through the text’s clown scenes, while Nikki, the German shepherd mix, pants and yawns most appealingly as Manough’s furry companion.
Ably playing character roles are the costumes of Linda C. Davisson, which convey volumes without speaking a word -- single-breasted blazers and Nehru jackets, diaphanous sundresses and straight-line mini-dresses.
By the time “All You Need Is Love” plays for the curtain call, Donenberg and his compatriots have created an emotion-charged summer of love. For, as Valentine puts it: “Love’s a mighty lord, and hath so humbled me as I confess there is no woe to his correction, nor to his service no such joy on earth.”
‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’
Where: The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., L.A.
When: 8 p.m. today through Sunday
Price: Standing room or wait-list for a seat, free. Guaranteed seat, $18.
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Where: South Coast Botanic Garden, 26300 Crenshaw Blvd., Rolling Hills Estates
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday through July 30
Price: $20, $18 in advance
Contact for both: (213) 975-9891