SANTA CRUZ SHAKESPEARE 2017 32 Shortly after the election last November, Merriam-Webster announced their word of the year for 2016: surreal. How apropos, I thought. A day later, post-truth was the word of the year according to the Oxford English Dictionary. I took cold comfort in the fact that I wasn’t the only one experiencing the world as if everything had been turned upside down. Atthesametime,IwasbeginningtothinkabouthowtosetourproductionofTheTwoGentlemen of Verona – a play whose character, Proteus, infamously lies and forsakes his girlfriend and best friend, attempts to steal the best friend’s girl (in front of his own girl friend who is dressed as a boy) and whose best friend and girlfriend ultimately forgive him in the space of a few minutes. Add to this a clown character (whose dog often upstages its owner) that has virtually nothing to do with the plot, and we have the makings of a post-truth and very surreal world. As the play takes place in Italy, I immediately began to think of the films of Federico Fellini (1920-1993), and how perfectly The Two Gentlemen might come to life within a Fellini-esque landscape, and voilà, my imagination was off and running. You needn’t know his films to appreciate our production; however, if you have seen 8 1/2, La Strada or La Dolce Vita, you may enjoy an extra smile of recognition, here and there, while images from these Fellini films, and others, spring to mind as the story unfolds. The Two Gentlemen of Verona is probably Shakespeare’s earliest comedy and certainly one of his earliest plays; it may have been performed as early as 1590. It also exhibits a number of key themes and theatrical ideas that emerged in his later works. Julia, for example, is the first of Shakespeare’s cross-dressing heroines. A model of cleverness, loyalty, and adventurous spirit, she paves the way for Portia, Rosalind, and Viola. The quartet of young lovers recurs in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; in that play as in Two Gentlemen, mischief and magic happen in the woods, a motif that recurs in several plays and is writ largest in As You Like It. The clowns Launce and Speed introduce, respectively, the tendency toward malapropism and energetic wit that we later recognize in Dogberry (Much Ado About Nothing) or Moth (Love’s Labour’s Lost). Crab the dog, however, stands alone as Shakespeare’s only canine character. At the same time, The Two Gentlemen of Verona is the work of a preternaturally gifted young dramatist still learning his craft. The play relies on a remarkably high proportion of two-person scenes and soliloquies, in contrast to the complex multi-player interactions that characterize Shakespeare’s later works. It also calls for one of the smallest ensembles in the canon. Finally, for centuries both critics and audiences have taken the play to task for its ending. The silence of Silvia and Julia in the final scene is troubling in terms of the play’s gender politics, but it also adds to the conclusion’s sense of hastiness, as if rushing toward the expected comic-romantic ending without acknowledging the risks and sacrifices undertaken along the way. The comedy ends—as it must—with marriage, but its true emotional heart (as the title suggests) lies in the intense friendship of Proteus and Valentine, whose love for each other becomes their highest moral authority at the end of the play. Valentine and Proteus are the ultimate bromance, so tightly knitted that their friendship leaves little emotional room for other people. But a counter-argument emerges from the meeting of Julia and Silvia. The two women are set up as rivals, but unexpectedly develop a mutual respect and compassion for each other: a model of friendship that, unlike that of Proteus and Valentine, does not exclude, but has the capacity to absorb and generate ever more love in the world. Director’s Notes Art Manke Dramaturg’s Notes ARIANE HELOU