By Diana SaengerShakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” is a comedy about love, friendship, infidelity, and in director Mark Lamos’ production, spunk.
When friends Valentine (Hubert Point-Du Jour) and Proteus (Adam Kantor) set out to seek their fortunes, their quest turns into a rivalry for the Duke of Milan’s beautiful daughter Silvia (Britney Coleman). This does not set well with Julia (Kristin Villanueva), who is in love with Proteus.
After some discussion about how dark Shakespeare’s original ending was (an attempted rape), Lamos and his cast at The Old Globe Theatre worked on creating their own ending with a more contemporary slant.
“We sat down to talk about it,” Coleman said. “It wasn’t really the direction we wanted for our audience, so we adjusted things to keep it lighter. The characters are younger, so they are really naive and don’t really know what they’re doing.”
Villanueva pointed out that “back in the day when Shakespeare wrote this (believed to have been between 1589 and 1592), it was a very common story and there was a code where friendship and brotherly love were on a higher level than romantic relationships. We’re still honoring that theme, but it’s exciting that Mark is game to try out various endings of how the four lovers manage that end.”
Villanueva said her character, Julia, is Shakespeare’s first cross-dresser, as compared to Viola from “Twelfth Night.”
“After my research on this play, I discovered it’s not really an original tale,” Villanueva said. “There were prior stories about females dressing up as males to follow their loved ones. Our Julia is very young, only 15. She doesn’t have a mother figure in the show.
They mention she has a father, but no siblings. She has a friend, Lucetta (Erin Elizabeth Adams), who she’s very close to. Julia has a lot of suitors but she doesn’t realize they are suitors. Then she gets a letter from Proteus saying that he loves her. She dresses up like a boy so she won’t be raped along the road, and travels to Milan only to discover that he’s in love with someone else.”
Coleman finds her character, Silvia, very sweet. “I love this character,” she said. “Silvia is the object of all the boys’ affections. She’s the daughter of the Duke, is gorgeous, smart, well endowed, and she knows how to spin boys to get them to court her properly. She holds her own against her kidnappers and has some spunk. As delicate as she may come off as, she can pack a punch, which is really fun to play.”
No matter which of Shakespeare’s plays are in production, playgoers return to see them again and again. “It’s because the text is so rich,” Coleman said. “I think the first time around, they’re like me. I’m listening very hard to get an idea of who those characters are and what their relationships are. So sometimes you just have to see his plays a couple of times to get the full scope. Shakespeare’s stories are classic. He laid out all the stepping-stones that inspired so many of the stories we have today.”
Another aspect of concern to both female leads is that at the end of the play, Silvia doesn’t speak for the last 10 minutes.
“In many of Shakespeare’s plays, the heroines don’t talk at the end,” Villanueva said. “What’s up with that? One scholar defended this silence (calling it) a golden silence, inferring that Silvia has done everything she could within her power, and now she chooses to be silent.”
Coleman added, “We wondered with that left open, did she cry, have her heart broken, or what? So we had many ideas we all talked about. It was gracious of Mark to allow the cast this opportunity. The play runs about an hour-and-a-half and Mark cut a lot of the lines that weren’t very action-driven. It’s a fun show everyone will enjoy.”
IF YOU GO:“The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” runs Aug. 10-Sept. 14 at The Old Globe Theatre’s outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park, San Diego. Tickets from $29. (619) 234-5623.