The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2111 Wednesday, 5 September 2001
From: Nancy Charlton <
Date: Tuesday, 04 Sep 2001 21:34:27 -0700
Subject: Two Gents Again
Some weeks back there was a discussion here of various ways of playing
the last scene of Two Gentlemen of Verona. Billy Houck, in his modern
dress production, has a feisty Sylvia scratch Proteus and knee him in
the groin in the threat-of-rape scene. David Wallace and perhaps others
protested that this was overkill in the scene, was too heavy handed for
I have had the pleasure of seeing a fine semi-professional production of
Two Gents here in Portland OR in weeks 1 and 3 of a three-Saturday run
at a downtown park, and since both the two gents above-named expressed
interest in knowing how others play this scene, I'll offer my
In this minimalist production, the key to the last scene was the in the
very opening, and that key is horseplay. Enter Valentine carrying
Proteus piggyback. V throws P to the ground and sits on him, pinning his
arms to the ground (red brick -- ouch!) Then P breaks the hold and
throws V. Once they are both on their feet they continue with punches
and jabs that parallel the verbal sparring in the verbal exchange
Shakespeare gives them. One gets the impression of well-brought up boys
in their late teens, young gentlemen who go back a long way together and
know each other well. They show their mutual regard with this
roughhousing, and the text also makes it clear they are good buddies.
I've seen brother, son, friends, husband--virtually every male in my
life--do some variation of this, and in the case of (thankfully) all but
husband, talk about their planned and accomplished conquests with much
bravado and even a little truth.
Cut to the conclusion. Proteus's manipulations seem to be succeeding; he
has got rid of both Valentine and Thurio. He makes his pitch to Sylvia
but she will have none of it. He gets desperate at the point of the
"force thee" line. He has been trying to put his arms around her, and
she has brushed him off. At this line he grabs her by the wrist. She
shakes him off in a well-blocked stage maneuver just as Valentine and
the outlaws enter. It was not a violent scene, but quite in character
for this positive and forceful yet very feminine Sylvia. Julia doesn't
exactly faint but rather cries out and falls to the ground half sitting
up. Sylvia retreats a few steps, leaving V & P in center stage. Then
comes more wrestling horseplay in their wonted manner, and this
culminates in V giving over to P whatever of Sylvia he had by right.
I'm not sure about this, but does V really have any rights to give? He
is not formally betrothed; he has made no contract. At most he is pretty
sure of her feelings for him. So when all Proteus's schemes cave in,
culminating with the revelation of Julia's identity, he is glad to have
her there so they can kiss and make up. Valentine hasn't lost a thing
and made a safe bet. Sylvia has the pesky Proteus out of her hair, and
Thurio when he returns proves the ninny Shakespeare wrote him, and
Speed and Launce, inevitably, got the biggest laughs. Speed was played
by a little slip of a 14-year old; the program notes referred to "he"
but if so, the squeakingest of Cleopatras. Launce in the scene with
about the dog having no sympathy actually had a little dog on a leash,
an elderly and corpulent Boston terrier. Gradually Launce lowers himself
to terrier eye level, and as he says "Didst thou ever see me do such a
trick?" the dog licks him on the face, then turns to the audience and
gives a couple more licks, ending with a most ineffably self-satisfied
look of self-satisfaction.
In the two weeks between the performances I saw, the actors loosened up
a lot, and were truly enjoying their playing in the last one. The
script was cut drastically, which kept the playing time to about 80
minutes (plenty, in the fry-eggs-on-the-sidewalk heat we've been
having). No essential action was omitted, just the elaborations of
stated themes. This is one of the wittiest plays in the canon, in my
opinion, and this was preserved. While the actION (as opposed to actING)
relied heavily on facial expressions and gestures, it kept the integrity
of the poems with well-paced wit and good rhythm.
The cast were obviously enjoying themselves, and lest this limited
account seem one dimensional, with appropriate complexity of character.
I look forward to whatever they do next summer!
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