KU Theatre opens season with comedy by Shakespeare

'Two Gentlemen of Verona' will begin Friday at Murphy Hall

Sunday, September 29, 2002

Take William Shakespeare's words and characters, plunk them down in the "Happy Days" diner, and you'll have an idea what University Theatre's production of "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" is all about.

Shakespeare's 1592 comedy, the opening production in University Theatre's 2002-2003 season, will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Oct. 10-12 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 6 in Crafton-Preyer Theatre in Murphy Hall.

"The Two Gentlemen of Verona" is directed by John Gronbeck Tedesco, professor of theater and film and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Kansas University.

Scenic and costume design is by Beth Collins, Sanderstead, England, graduate student, and lighting design is by Elinor Parker, Lawrence graduate student. Dialect and diction coach is Amy Sue Fall, lecturer in theater and film.

Thought to be Shakespeare's first romantic comedy, "Two Gentlemen of Verona" is a lively look at the foolishness and fickleness of young love. Spattered with puns and dazzling word play, the comedy is an Elizabethan celebration of male friendship as the most rewarding of relationships.

Gronbeck-Tedesco said he was drawn to the play because of the language's virtuosity.

"Shakespeare wrote the play early in his career and he was showing off a bit," he said. "He was the new kid on the block and was trying to impress people with his power as a poet. There is a great deal of poetic virtuosity throughout the piece. The words are dazzling."

A witty commentary on the battle-of-the-sexes theme, "Two Gentlemen of Verona" asks the age-old question: "What does love do to its victims?" Shakespeare was deliberately spoofing the conventions he and his audience were thoroughly familiar with: courtly love and its elaborate conventions and the sad fact that both friendship and love are blind.

In the play, Proteus is hopelessly in love with Julia. His pal, Valentine, scorns such entanglements until he travels to Milan and falls for Sylvia. Then Proteus shows up, finds himself smitten with Sylvia too, and resolves to win her for himself. Abandoned, Julia decides to dress up as a man and go get some answers. She discovers Proteus' infidelity and confusion reigns.

Adding to the central story are the clownish exchanges between each gentleman's servant and one politely disinterested dog, Crab, portrayed by Moppy, a "designer dog" owned by Delores Ringer, KU associate professor of theater and film.

Gronbeck-Tedesco said he set the play in the late 1950s or early 1960s because the story seems to him to be "a rite of passage from adolescence to the first stage of adulthood."

"A number of the characters go from small-town life to a larger political environment," he explained. "They are forced to make compromises and to live in a world not always user friendly."

Because of the characters' innocence, the director decided to work in a framework derived from popular culture as the emblem of innocence, and is using well-known rock 'n' roll music and references from 1950s culture.

"'Happy Days' and 'Grease,' for example, have made the '50s an image of what we all want to believe adolescence is supposed to be about," he said.

Gronbeck-Tedesco said much of the comedy in "Two Gentlemen of Verona" relied on verbal repartee and exchanges of wit although the overall situation is comedic. Adding the virtuosity of the language to the physical work has required the young actors to develop vocal techniques that answer the demands of the poetry, he said.

Tickets are $14 and $12 for the general public, $10 for students, and $13 and $11 for senior citizens. Tickets are available at the Murphy Hall Box Office, 864-3982; Lied Center Box Office, 864-ARTS; Student Union Activities Box Office, 864-7469; and online at www.kutheatre.com.