The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Courtney Cox | Monday, April 4, 2011
This year the Film, Television and Theatre Department’s spring production combines all the enthusiasm of student-run shows with the precision and training of professional theatre. The Department will join for the first time with the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival to present “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” this week.
The play is among the lesser-known works of Shakespeare, which will give new audiences a chance to experience it without any preconceived notions about how the play should be performed.
Though the play was written in 1590, its themes are ones audiences still struggle with today. The main plotline follows two men, Valentine and Proteus, as they travel to Milan and find love in the same woman, Silvia. As one can imagine, no good follows when the two friends begin to compete for her affection.
The issues covered in the play are especially relevant to a college-aged audience.
“[Shakespeare] was a young person when he wrote it. He’s writing about young people so the issues in this play, the things we explore in the play, are really relevant to young people,” Donald Carrier, the show’s director, said.
“It’s all about parental-child differences, falling in love instantly, falling out of love, breaking off with someone, pursuing their true love. All of those things…have always been relevant but it’s particularly relevant to a college audience.”
Because the themes are so relevant, the cast has found the experience of working on the show to be particularly enriching.
“They [the actors] have been able to access the types of themes that are in this play. It’s about falling in instant love with somebody and that happens all the time, especially for young people,” said Carrier. “People are very passionate when they’re young. They’re passionate about their ideas, about falling in love, they’re passionate about pursuing their goals and things like that, so I think it was very easy for the cast to access that.”
In addition to the accessible themes, the production made the decision to set the show in the early 1950s.
“I’m here to see actors improve and become more comfortable doing Shakespeare, and I find when Shakespeare’s put in its period…it distances the actor from it a lot. It becomes very presentational, and I wanted to avoid that,” Carrier explained in regards to his decision to move away from the traditional Elizabethan setting of most Shakespeare plays.
He also described why the 1950s would make a successful setting for the play. “I found an era which I thought was fairly neutral, but at the same time it means something, even to young people. Even if they’re thinking of “Grease” or “Mad Men”… it’s a time they understand and have a little more familiarity with.”
Through the creative use of an appropriately chosen era, the cast and crew have transformed an age-old play into something audiences can more easily understand. The language holds new meaning when placed in a different context and shows the depth of Shakespeare’s work. Shakespeare’s plays can be performed hundreds of years after being written and still hold meaning.