William Shakespeare classic receives an ‘80s spin

Shakespeare on the Lawn presents aesthetic twist on 'Two Gentlemen of Verona'


Shakespeare on the Lawn impressed with its modern rendition of "Two Gentlemen of Verona."

Courtesy Shakespeare on the Lawn

Upon entering the Student Activities Building this past weekend, the unknowing attendee would think that they were about to see a show inspired by the hit sitcom “Saved by the Bell”. A quintessential ‘80s representation — that is precisely what Shakespeare on the Lawn created through its presentation of “Two Gentlemen of Verona.”

Opening the show, Jake Mathews, director and a fourth-year Engineering student, gave an impassioned introduction demonstrating his dedication and gratitude to the cast, crew and play itself. As one of William Shakespeare’s earliest works, “Two Gentlemen of Verona” includes themes and shenanigans that Shakespeare heightened in subsequent pieces. Despite “Two Gentlemen of Verona” being argued as one of Shakespeare’s weakest works, Shakespeare on the Lawn casted these opinions aside by adapting the play to a more modern context, emphasizing elements of the comedy through its tragic undertones.

Fourth-year Engineering student Eddie Dunoyer played Proteus, best friend to Valentine, who was portrayed by Charlottesville resident Josh Yiznitsky. The pair from Verona begin the play disagreeing on the value of life. Valentine will travel to Milan in search of honor, while Proteus will remain in Verona for his love, Julia.

“I would I knew his mind,” recited fourth-year College student Maggie Vaughan, who portrayed Julia. 

Both Dunoyer and Vaughan delivered compelling monologues throughout the play and had a convincing chemistry in their exchanges. 

In his promise of love to Julia before being sent to Milan by his father, Proteus said, “Truth hath better deeds than words to grace it” upon his farewell.

Scenes were broken up by set changes that blacked out the stage, but illuminated neon projections onto the multicolored, wire fence-textured, six-panel backdrop. The neon handprints and paint smatterings accompanied three-dimensional geometric shapes scattered about the panels. Different popular songs from the ‘80s played in the background, including “Kiss” by Prince, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper, “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac, “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield and “Let’s Get Physical” by Olivia Newton-John. The last song established a brief, humorous aerobics scene with characters Valentine, Speed and Silvia, with the latter two being portrayed by fourth-year Engineering student Maxwell Rowshandel and first-year College student Maille-Rose Smith, respectively.

At first, these transitions were somewhat awkward, but the mannerisms and style of the actors lent well to the translation of the play. It was interesting to watch a Shakespearean work from the late 1500s performed with modern sensibilities, though still roughly 40 years prior to the current context. 

Characters like Launce and Speed were wonderfully comedic roles as Proteus and Valentine’s servants. Performed by first-year College student Mia Shaker and Rowshandel, respectively, their jocular antics made the audience laugh with them and at the ridiculousness of their masters. 

In one scene, Speed explained the display of love in Silvia’s letter to Valentine, who is oblivious to her subtle action. Exasperated, Speed rhymed about Silvia’s intention to give Valentine the love letter she asked him to write himself. A less confused Valentine was finally transformed by love just in time for Proteus to arrive in Milan and fall in love with Silvia. 

“Even as one heat another heat expels,” Proteus said, as he promptly forgot Julia with resolve to steal the heart of Silvia from Valentine through trickery and betrayal. 

Despite the male-driven manipulation of the plot inherent in the play, Vaughan and Smith portrayed strong feminine characters. Julia concealed herself as Proteus’s new male servant Sebastian, and Silvia denounced Proteus’s motives, saying “I despise thee for thy wrongful suit.” 

Loyal to her Valentine and defensive of Julia, Smith delivered defiant and tough truths to Dunoyer’s character. On the opposite side of the stage, Vaughan nodded, snapped and bobbed in approval and solidarity, which elicited laughter from the audience. The interplay in this scene was both playful and dynamic, highlighting the absurdity of Proteus’s deceit. 

In the final minutes of the performance, a betrayed Valentine yelled at Proteus — “Who should be trusted, when one’s own right hand is perjured to the bosom!” Consequently, Proteus promptly found his moral compass with the exclamation, “My shame and guilt confounds me!” 

Valentine was swift to forgive, causing both Julia and Silvia to shrug incredulously on the side. Neither were as quick to forgive Proteus, and ended the play with a united front similar to their prior scene.

“Two Gentlemen of Verona” was a unique and charming theatrical experience put on by Shakespeare on the Lawn. Next semester, the group will be presenting “Julius Caesar.”

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