Brush up on your Shakespeare for ‘Verona’

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I’m going to be honest. I had no idea what was going on while viewing the latest production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” by Fresno State’s University Theatre.

This adaptation, directed by Brad Meyers, takes one of William Shakespeare’s earlier comedies and updates it to the 1950s. Other than the time period difference, setting and costuming, the story is essentially the same.

One of the issues is that I did not know the story.

Unless you are heavily involved in theater, really love Shakespeare or were forced to read “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” while in school, then you may end up a bit confused. Or like me, you will end up so confused that during the intermission, you try looking up the plot on Wikipedia before you have to go back in to make sense of what is happening. So, here’s what I learned.

The play focuses on two friends, Valentine and Proteus, both from Verona (what a surprise) with Valentine getting ready to leave Verona for Milan. Proteus, however, is in love with Julia, a girl from his town who he cannot bear to leave.

The plot twist isn’t really a surprise – Proteus ends up leaving Julia anyway to chase after Valentine, which then causes Julia to chase after Proteus, and a big mess ensues.

The actors all did wonderfully. Kai DiMino and Steven Weatherbee, who played Valentine and Proteus, respectively, had great chemistry on stage. They both brought their characters to life with intense physicality and emotion.

However, the real star of the show was Steve McQueen, the real, amazing, fluffy-eared, scruffy dog, who played Crab, the pet of one of the characters, Lance.

The play had some ridiculous moments. During one scene between Valentine and Sylvia, played by Lauren Folland, the background cast breaks out into this weird spoken word song, reciting Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, also known by its opening line “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

Another time one of actors starts speaking in Spanish, to which Valentine then responds back in Spanish.

So while it seems that most of the play stuck to the original text, they included parts that deviated so far from the original that it left me confused. It was entertaining, but did not make sense to me.

The setting was another aspect that did not fit. For this production of the play, the setting was changed to the 1950s, but it seems like that was done just to have the characters dress in leather jackets or look like beatnik poets while they recite poetry set to a guitar; then they went back to speaking in Early Modern English.

While this production definitely had entertaining moments, it may be difficult for those not already familiar with the work. It would be wise to brush up on some Shakespeare just to understand what the actors are saying. Otherwise, you’ll end up like me: lost, confused and reading the plot description online.

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