I had never seen or read Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona before I saw it Sunday at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. I hated the playwright’s too-hasty ending to the story, but I loved the IRT’s completely entertaining production. The skilled actors, under the direction of Tim Ocel, make the 1500s language easy to understand, and the early-1800s costumes, music and other design elements are all exquisitely crafted. Plus there is a gorgeous dog.
There is also a wealth of discussion fodder: What is the difference between love and lust? Can you force someone to love you? Can you figure out if someone is worth loving by going through a list of their vices and virtues? When should you give someone that has wronged you a second chance? Which is more important: friendship, love, or self-respect?
If I had gotten to see this show instead of the ten million productions of Romeo and Juliet that I had to sit through as a teen, I bet my high school years would have been a bit more enjoyable.
On the other hand, this piece could also be called Two Bro’s of Verona. It is about two young men, best friends. One, named Valentine (Charles Pasternak), is setting off to seek his fortune while the other, named Proteus (Chris Bresky), is staying home to woo a woman. Each thinks the other has misplaced his priorities.
But then Valentine falls in love with Silvia (Ashley Wickett), and Proteus is forced by his father (Antonio, played by Robert Neal) to travel to where Valentine is. Then Proteus falls in love with Silvia, too. Uh-oh.
Proteus forgets all about the woman back home in Verona (Julia, played by Lee Stark) with whom he has had sex and exchanged rings and vows. He plots to get Valentine out of the way so that he can go after Silvia.
At one point, Proteus’ servant, Launce (Ryan Artzberger), says to the audience, “I think my master is a dick.”
Well, no, the word he actually uses is “knave.” But I knew what he meant, and I laughed out loud at the idea that men have been telling each other, “Don’t be a dick,” in so many words since Shakespeare’s time.
I cried during Valentine’s “What light is light, if Silvia be not seen” speech after he is banished from her town, but he is a bit of a knave too at the end. His wise fool of a servant, Speed (Scot Greenwell), says, “Love is blind,” and ultimately it is Silvia and Julia that are the most blind because they take their knaves back. I find it hard to believe that they will all live happily ever after, but I hope they do.
I want to give a special shout to actor Matt Holzfeind who plays, among other characters, Thurio, the stuck-up dandy that Silvia’s father wants her to marry. In Sunday’s show, a piece of the set fell down as he was leaving in a huff. He incorporated it into his exit perfectly without losing character for even a heartbeat.