Master’s students stage a stylish ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ at The Old Globe

The Old Globe Theatre continues to captivate audiences with its brilliant executions of Shakespeare’s classics, bringing in top talent to star and direct. Now through Nov. 20, you can see another fine example in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” directed by Richard Seer with first- and second-year MFA students in the University of San Diego’s Shiley Graduate Theatre Program. For this production, Seer chose to take the gentlemen in a slightly different direction.

“There’s a wonderful innocence about this play that I like a lot,” he explained. “I made a concerted effort to capture it by setting the show in 1910, with Verona a kind of Denver or St. Louis — Midwest Americana. I got the idea because this is Shakespeare’s earliest play. As a young man he wrote about his experiences with material later used in ‘Twelfth Night,’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘As You Like It.’ “

“ ‘Two Gents’ is a coming-of-age story about two guys learning how the world, love and women work. I set it in 1910 because I knew about eight years later, the United States would go through World War I. By choosing sometime just prior to that — when women were fighting for the right to  vote and the young nation saw endless possibilities — it seemed like the right time to place this production. Our sound designer found wonderful music to include that’s upbeat.

“The play starts with the two guys talking about one of them going to college, but instead it’s off to the big city to live with Duke Malan. This is his chance to see and learn about the world. The other gent stays in the small town to be with the girl he’s fallen in love with. They both come to learn about adulthood, commitment and friendship, and what matters most in one’s life.”

In discussing the cast Seer explained, “the students go through a rigorous audition process … we choose them from all over the country and the world. After a year within the program, the second-year actors are really showing terrific chops in their approaches to Shakespeare. It’s more sophisticated and nuanced, and they play most of the leads.

“We have a new 3-minute promotional film about our program where (Globe Artistic Director) Barry Edelstein talks about advanced training, classical in particular. He is an expert on it and spent most of his career training actors. He says if you can do this kind of work, you can do any work. That’s been my experience for young actors.

“Jim Parsons (Sheldon Cooper in “The Big Bang Theory”) is a graduate of our program and he’s been interviewed about how strange it must have been to have classical training when he is now a sitcom and movie actor. But with acting, it helps if you understand what the operatives are in a sentence and what words to stress to give it meaning and make the joke. Parsons does something that seems wildly different on television, but he relates it very closely to the work he did here. I’m most proud of the vast majority of our students who now have professional careers. That’s not easy and I can attest to that. It’s all about doing different things — voiceovers, commercials, TV soaps, films and more.”

Seer said older patrons will enjoy this show in a nostalgic way, reliving the dramatic aspects of the times when they, too, got in trouble. Younger audiences will find it romantic, funny and stirring.

IF YOU GO: “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” plays through Nov. 20 at The Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park, San Diego. Tickets $19. (619) 234-5623. theoldglobe.org

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