Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Verona Project

Fans of Two Gentlemen of Verona cover your ears, because this reviewer has no kind words for Shakespeare's "weakest, deeply weird" ending.  That's ok, though, because Amanda Dehnert has gone ahead and rewritten it.  Her Verona Project "transforms Shakespeare's shallow, nonsensical play into a joyous and affecting story of flawed people stumbling into love."

I don't often blog about individual local shows, because most folks simply won't ever have the chance to see them. But the amount of scorn heaped on poor Two Gents in this review made me figure that perhaps there are some fans of that one who might like to defend it?


Cass said...

Oh, I will joyously take up this challenge. I feel like I spent half my academic career, and a good portion of my professional one thus far, defending this play. ;) I'm quite proud to be its champion.

1) I hate the idea of a rewrite in general, because it clearly indicates no trust of Shakespeare. It's different than an adaptation, which can have many reasons behind it. This just seems pretty clear that the rewriter thought the original needed "fixing".

2) The ending is supposed to be weird. It's satirical. IMO. Specifically, a satirical critique of a common literary trope known as amicitia, in which Valentine's actions (offering his girlfriend to her attempted rapist) would have been not only acceptable but expected. Anyone who really desperately wants the full reasoning on that can ask me for a copy of my thesis, but, trust me, I'm right. ;)

3) The trouble with that satirical ending is that it calls upon social rules that have fallen not just out of practice, but out of common knowledge. That doesn't mean there aren't ways to make it work, though, and just a little bit of research and effort would reveal them. We're actually better placed these days, with the revival of the "bromance" concept, to give Two Gents a satisfactory ending.

4) There's a lot funny in Two Gents beside Launce and Crab. And a lot worthwhile that isn't just funny. Speed is fabulous, Valentine's awkwardness has the potential to be hugely entertaining (especially in his scene where he outs his elopement plans to Sylvia's father), Sylvia is a fantastic early heroine, a real spitfire, Julia is sort of pathetic but quite poignant as well, and even much-maligned Proteus can become a complex entity in the hands of the right actor. There's a lot to like about this play, if you don't just dismiss it out-of-hand.

5) Two Gents contains the seeds of almost every other comedy Shakespeare would ever write. He gets better, no question. But that doesn't make Two Gents worthless. It makes it valuable.

6) I also don't think it's Shakespeare's earliest play. I'm pretty sure that honour goes to Comedy, which shows all the hallmarks of a first attempt, heavily reliant on schoolboy knowledge. Two Gents already shows a lot more inventiveness and willingness to play with form, style, and audience expectations.

So there. ;)

Charlene said...

I will gladly defend this play. After all it was my company's inaugural production in June. The six of us performing fell in love with the piece as we were working on it. It was two awesome female roles, who are both strong, but in different ways. The comic scenes are genuinely funny. And it also have moments of beautiful tenderness. The "what light is light" speech is extraordinary.

The ending of this play is never easy, but that makes the play even better. It challenges us, as actors, and as audience members. It leaves us uneasy, but why is that a bad thing? We found that if we just played the text truly and committed to what Shakespeare gave us, we took our audience on a journey that they were still thinking about days later. We committed to what was there - Proteus tries to rape Silivia, which is horrible, so we made it horrible. Proteus repents, so we made the begging for forgiveness honest. Julia forgives him to some extent, so we took the lovers to a place where they could earn that reconciliation, but still without suggesting that everything was perfect at the end. We left the audience with questions, because we believed the script did the same.

It was an amazing experience, and as a result I have a huge amount of respect for that play.