Karl Hugh, Utah Shakespearean Festival
Lindsey Wochley as Julia in the Utah Shakespearean Festival's 2008 production of 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona.'
"THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA," Utah Shakespearean Festival, Cedar City, through Aug. 30, (800-752-9849 or www.bard.org); running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (one intermisson)

"The Two Gentlemen of Verona" is one of Shakespeare's earliest comedies. At the time, it was a sort of chick-flick — a romantic comedy.

It's not his funniest work, but in "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," you see the Bard tinkering with ideas and plotlines that will lead to his greater comedies.

The story wrestles with love; love between friends; love between men and women; love of fathers and daughters and forgiveness.

One of three Shakespearean offerings at the Utah Shakespearean Festival, "Two Gents," directed by Jesse Berger, has some fine performances, including one that proves the old mantra — never act with children or animals.

Jake's entrance as "Crab" the ill-mannered but likable dog is the first moment the audience truly felt engaged. I've always thought it impossible to upstage actor Brian Vaughn, a Festival regular who also brilliantly stars this season in "Cyrano de Bergerac," but Jake manages to do so.

A mutt that was cast in the role after a series of auditions, Jake has a perfectly uninterested yet outrageously sweet face and steals every scene. I hate putting Jake so high up in the review, but he is what people will walk away remembering.

Vaughn and Jake are the highlights of "Two Gents." They make a handful of appearances that don't have a whole lot to do with the rest of the story, but they are very funny.

So is Kevin Kiler as Speed, a servant who is quick to trade barbs and was an audience favorite.

The rest of the performances are solid, but again, they don't pack the comic punch that can be found in Shakespeare's greater comedies.

But it's not to be taken too seriously. As implausible as it seems that anyone could look at a former love and not recognize her simply because her hair is pulled up, it's certainly more fun if you just go along for the ride.

Lindsey Wochley and Carly Germany do a fine job as the two love interests, and Marcella Rose Sciotto is great playing two servants.

The two gentlemen, played by Justin Matthew Gordon and Matt Burke, were both believable as friends and hopeful lovers, even as it is unbelievable they remain friends.

As always, the costumes are stunning. The fabrics used in Bill Black's designs are so exquisite they're almost distracting. R. Eric Stone's simple Italian-style set sets the scene nicely.

It's a fine evening. There are plenty of funny moments, mistaken identities and, of course, those wonderful Shakespearean lines that still resonate today.

Sensitivity rating: Some sexual gestures and references.