The Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC)’s new production of Two Gentleman of Verona incorporates things like texting, U2 songs, karaoke and cutting into a centuries-old drama and (for the most part) manages to make it all make sense. At first, I couldn’t quite reconcile the costumes that echoed times past with the use of modern appliances and the blaring modern logos that are in the set, but in an Asides interview director PJ Paparelli talks about the production being “a hybrid between classical and modern adolescent sensibility.” For this play, the STC employed surtitles to keep people informed of where the action takes place. This is a play that moves around quite a bit and this technique is helpful. In that same interview Paparelli observes: “Shakespeare didn’t care about foolish inconsistencies. He just wanted to give people the story.”
This is one of Shakespeare’s earlier plays and you can see themes that will be echoed in his later works. Elements such as lovesick teens, banishment, a girl that cross-dresses to undertake perilous journeys, quick-witted and caring servants, stern, business-minded fathers, and unsuitable suitors also appear in plays such as Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, and Cymbeline. And this production really plays up the action—punches are thrown and weapons are brandished.
In this play Valentine, Proteus, Silvia and Julia suffer through mix-ups and thwarted affections, some of the own doing and some not, as Demetrius, Lysander, Hermia and Helena do in A Midsummer’s Night Dream.
In fact, one of Valentine’s speeches bears a striking resemblance to the lines uttered by Romeo, another Shakespearian character with a name that is often linked with romance.
One element in this play that Shakespeare did not return to time and again is the use of an animal onstage. Shakespeare Theatre Literary Associate Drew Lichtenberg declares the interaction between Proteus servant Launce and his dog, Crab, to be “…one of the most memorable scenes in all of Shakespeare. It is a scene Beckettian in its minimalist genius and unanimous it its ability to make the audience laugh.”
One thing that does not cause laughter is the quick resolution of a controversial situation as the play ends. It’s not easy for me to wrap my mind around that rather startling development but remembering that it was written in a different time and that the play centers on impulsive adolescents does put it into context.
See Two Gentleman of Verona at the Lansburgh Theatre (450 7th Street NW Washington, DC 20004-2207) until March 4.