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Shakespearean Silliness

Early Bard Pleases at Theatre Hopkins

One Dog of Vernona: Crab (bottom) nearly steals show from Tony Colavito.

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 6/20/2001

Two Gentlemen of Verona

William Shakespeare

When my roommate asked me what time I would get back from Theatre Hopkins' production of Two Gentleman of Verona, I said, "Well, it's a Shakespeare comedy, so I'll be back when everyone gets married." And Two Gentlemen didn't disappoint--though the course to true love runs even less smoothly than usual in this play.

Love was a constant preoccupation for the Bard. He explored it often throughout his career--not just romantic love, but familial and fraternal love as well. Though it's difficult to pinpoint the order in which Shakespeare wrote his plays, Two Gentlemen of Verona is widely considered one of his first. As an early work, it is not as rich, complex, or cohesive as some of his other plays on this theme, but it is nevertheless a fascinating look at the ways in which romantic love can lead to pain and betrayal. Decidedly less upbeat than Shakespeare's more beloved romantic comedies As You Like It and Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen is at times overly sentimental and at other times shockingly harsh, making it one of his least predictable plays.

Two Gentlemen begins when Valentine leaves his best friend Proteus behind in Verona, Italy, to seek his fortune at the Duke's court in Milan. Proteus stays behind to woo Julia, but just as he wins the maiden, Proteus' father decides to send him to Milan to seek his fortune. Before he leaves, Proteus and Julia vow their undying love and exchange rings to seal their bond. Meanwhile, Valentine and the Duke of Milan's daughter, Silvia, fall for each other. But she is promised to a wealthy old man she despises, so they plan to elope. When Proteus gets to Milan, he immediately forgets about Julia and falls for Silvia. In order to win her, he gets Valentine banished from Milan. Back in Verona, Julia is still very much in love with Proteus, so she dresses like a man--the only safe way for a woman to travel alone at the time--and goes to join him in Milan. But when she arrives, she finds her beloved wooing a reluctant Silvia. Mistaking Julia for a servant boy, Proteus asks her to deliver the very ring she gave him to Silvia.

At this point, everything is such a mess, and Proteus seems so entirely unredeemable, that it's hard to imagine how the Bard is going to work out a happy ending. But he gets there, albeit pretty illogically. Theatre Hopkins does its best to pull it off, using long pauses filled with tears and emotions to fill in the gaps left by the hard-to-swallow dialogue.

The cast is consistently strong. Neal Freeman gives a convincing performance as Proteus, which is an incredibly difficult part because the actor must convince the audience he is a true and honorable lover in the play's first half and a deceitful ass in the second. Morgan Stanton's Valentine is charismatic and filled with both honor and youthful swagger. Lauren Spencer-Harris plays Julia with pluck and sincerity. In comparison, Molly Moores' Silvia is a bit flat at first, but she comes to life in her scenes with Proteus, in which her righteous indignation seems to shake her body. No one really steals the show, except perhaps the basset hound whose portrayal of the dog Crab is surly canine perfection. Crab belongs to the clowns, servants of Proteus and Valentine who are well performed by Lex Davis and Tony Colavito. However, their characters aren't very well integrated into the plot; they serve solely as comic relief.

Suzanne Pratt's direction is fluid and fast-paced. And her cast will surely seem even more energetic when the play moves to its usual setting, outside in front of Evergreen House. There, Two Gentlemen of Verona will have a setting as enchanting as the production itself.

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