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Tuesday
Jul092013

Play in the Woods at APT’s Two Gentlemen of Verona

“In the Woods” can be that place where during William Shakespeare’s stories characters often discover their very personal transformations. In the woods and Up the Hill, American Players Theatre presents another version of characters that find themselves living in the woods during tough times in Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. An opportunity to view this early play from the master’s dramatic legacy produced far less often than many others.

Shakespeare’s tale recounts the constancy of friendship and love as these best friends, two young gentlemen, Proteus and Valentine, seek their fortunes in Italy. Proteus first falls in love with the dark haired Julia, pledging his faith with a gold ring. Then the other gentleman Valentine swears his heart to the fairer Sylvia, already betrothed to a wealthy friend of her father the Duke of Milan. That is, until Proteus visits Valentine, meets Sylvia, and then struggles with the value of friendship, faithfulness, and his own wanton inclinations. 

In Two Gentlemen, the servants of Proteus and Valentine, Speed and Launce, provide some great laughs, narrate the story and give the audience clues to their masters’ ensuing actions. Will Mobley’s Speed and Steve Haggard’s Launce exude Shakespeare’s ability for bawdy, clever rhyme while mocking the constancy of human friendship. Launce would sacrifice more for his canine friend, Crab, a real life German Shepherd named Tim, than his human master. Hence, a dog might actually be man’s best friend, for these animals indeed prove loyal in the best sense. 

Director Tim Ocel appears to give Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen a modern edge, with Marcus Truschinski playing Proteus and Travis A. Knight, Valentine. This seems to strip some of the lyricism from Shakespeare’s lines, a lyricism more necessary in this earlier play where Shakespeare might be developing as a young playwright.  On stage APT further strips down Shakespeare’s script with little embellishment in scenery, a pier like, wooden scaffolding for the set, a more modern, bare bones interpretation by Scenic Designer Nathan Stuber.

Opposite the male leads, Shakespeare begins to place his focus on strong women, the petite Susan Shunk in the role of the forlorn Julia, and in her maid Lucetta, a great cameo performance by Kelsey Brennan. The debuting Abbey Siegworth plays the fiery Silvia. This fair-haired beauty committed to her love for Valentine in spite of her father’s intended wishes, or whatever Proteus attempts to whisper in her ears.

While all four leads can command a stage, on this humid night there might have been more romantic heat between the two couples. More affection was perceived between Proteus and Valentine than for either of their female loves, perhaps something that will develop completely over the summer season.

In a fateful twist, Shakespeare’s poetry in Two Gentlemen provides the audience with the famous line “Love is blind " to poignantly contrast with their Touchstone Theatre production, Molly Sweeney, where actually “seeing” proves to be less valuable in discerning matters of the heart. Lovers wish to be in the darkness, oblivious to their partner’s shortcomings, where friends can often see truths. This inherent loyalty to friendship and love dominate the themes in Two Gentlemen.

Proteus proves himself false to Julia and Valentine, yet he makes amends, and then discovers forgiveness offered from Valentine, who knew Proteus was blind to the truth. Walking down the hill through the woods, one heard after the performance, “How unrealistic the ending was, for Valentine to forgive Proteus.” In the woods is where all the final action in this play unfolds, and one might consider that women were only property in Shakespeare’s era, when Proteus’s crime might be seen as less repulsive than today. Still, Ocel used more force in his seemingly contemporary interpretation of that scene than usually noted. Although, Shakespeare consistently inhabits his women with assurance and confidence to rival the male ego, as he did here.

Yet, without Shakespeare adding the redemptive “one feast, one house, one mutual happiness,” the forgiveness Valentine offers to his dear friend Proteus at the play's conclusion, despite Valentine being betrayed, the audience would be left with destruction. Only forgiveness restores the love of Valentine and Silvia, given also by and to the Duke of Milan, and then from Julia for Proteus.

While each of APT’s plays can be singularly dynamic entertainment for the evening, considering this fascinating trio, the two Shakespeare plays in contrast to Brian Friel’s Molly Sweeney, invites compelling discussion. There was spare forgiveness, given too late, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, while APT’s Molly Sweeney powerfully uncovers what “blind” and “seeing” can actually mean. Encounter a personal transformation while playing in the APT woods this summer, all the while enjoying every minute of the company’s entertaining and intellectually fascinating theater season.  

American Players Theatre presents William Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona through their summer season in repertoire with Shakespeare's Hamlet and Brain Friel's Molly Sweeney, along with two other fascinating plays. To "play in the woods" with APT, for further information on schedules, special events or tickets please call   608.588.2361 or click the APT link to the left.                         by Peggy Sue Dunigan

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