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Modern Verona offers fun, accessible Shakespeare
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Modern Verona offers fun, accessible Shakespeare

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Two Gentlemen of Verona
Seattle Shakespeare Company
Through April 11


Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of the earliest - perhaps the earliest - of Shakespeare's plays. In a "talk back" at Seattle Shakespeare Company, where the play is being presented, someone suggested that the reason there is a dog in this play and not in any of Shakespeare's others might be because Shakespeare figured out the "dogs and children" rule of theater (don't put 'em in) relatively early. A lovely old dog, Russ, plays a major distractive role as Crab. He definitely adds to the fun.

This production, directed by Marcus Goodwin, is set in Orange County, California, home of the shallow, texting, phone-photo-clicking reality television folks of stereotype. The actors forgo the hoity-toity Shakespearean accents that are often affected, giving way to "normal" American speech. It's a fun way to experience Shakespeare - more like the contemporary feeling his plays might have had when he was alive. Costuming, by Doris Black, is fashionable business-wear and high-heeled primping. Sound designer Robertson Witmer uses tongue-in-cheek music transition, including the audience inside someone's headphones. The set, by Jason Phillips, allows for disco clubbing and office meetings, with ingenious slide projections to illuminate locations and show cell phone photos.

Connor Toms and Daniel Brockley play best friends Valentine and Proteus. They really love each other, but "real" love is reserved for women. Proteus has found his true love, Julia (Hana Lass), and Valentine finally finds Silvia (Emily Grogan) and tells Proteus he understands why Proteus can think of nothing else. The problem is, when Proteus sees Silvia, he decides to transfer his affections - so much for undying love. Julia disguises herself as a boy to travel to find Proteus, where he has gone to be with Valentine, and finds him mooning over Silvia. It's early "midsummer" madness.

What helps this production surmount typical resistance to quick Shakespearean plot twists ("You betrayed me!" "Please forgive me." "OK, you're forgiven.") is the fun application of modern mores. Needing a ring to exchange, Proteus grabs the one he has on him - on his nipple. People text each other and delete each other from their phones. Julia insecurely looks at her suitors' photos on her phone, discussing them with her servant.

Rogues and sidekicks do fun work as David Goldstein supports Valentine and Chris Ensweiler, the great clown, comments on Proteus ("What a knave my master is!"). Another group of comedic entertainment is the outlaws, played by Kelly Ehlert, Derek Petropolis, and Matt Shimkus.

This is a totally accessible version of the play. Those high school teachers who try to force their teens to choke down Julius Caesar and Hamlet can just bring 'em to this version in the O.C. and sit back and watch the understanding dawn. Anyone who has ever felt that trying to understand Shakespeare and what he's talking about is fruitless should give this one a try. You might miss a word here or there, but there's no missing the fun. Spread the word. For more information, go to www.seattleshakespeare.org or call 206-733-8222.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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