A Night in Mantua, Griffin Theatre Company. In this comedy incorporating characters from four of Shakespeare's Italian plays, playwright William Massolia favors modest epiphanies over world-weary contemplation. A Night in Mantua takes an intellectual but not stiflingly erudite approach. Massolia borrows the narrator and the play-within-a-play structure of The Taming of the Shrew and adds a host of other characters. He also takes great pains to stick with populist appeal: the comedy is bawdy and broad, with a nonstop barrage of innuendo and astute gags skewering the Bard for his lazier devices.
If anything, Massolia's guilty of ignoring the larger work amidst all the local color. He clearly loves Shakespeare's larger-than-life fops and ne'er-do-wells, like Proteus in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. But some of the plot-advancing characters (especially those culled from Romeo and Juliet) come across as starchy and archetypal. Still, a spirited staging and the cast's wonderful, generous performances go a long way toward masking the script's shortcomings: Paul S. Holmquist, Kirk Gillman, and Laura Sciortino in particular really sink their teeth into their roles. And damned if Matthew Lon Walker as the perpetually intoxicated, entirely unreliable narrator Christopher Sly isn't what Massolia had in mind for the entire show: respectful and self-aware yet too fluid and easygoing to be overwhelmed by his weighty source.