The Two Gentlemen of Verona has a new feminist twist at Bard on the Beach

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The Two Gentlemen of Verona | Bard on the Beach | Douglas Campbell Theatre at Vanier Park | June 29 – September 17, 2017

An adorable basset hound, lessons in love, and a new feminist ending — this production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona couldn’t have been better.

Shakespeare’s comedies often contain antiquated ideas about gender roles or unrealistic romantic gestures, but Proteus (Charlie Gallant), a protagonist in Two Gentlemen, is probably his most deplorable lover. After laying eyes on Sylvia (Adele Noronha), his best friend Valentine’s (Nadeem Phillip) girl, he casts aside Julia (Kate Besworth) and says “I will forget that Julia is alive.”

After treating Julia with such apathy, and eventually attempting to rape Sylvia, you would think Julia would never want to see him again, nevermind forgive and forget. But, the final scenes are written to have Julia take him back and forgive all his transgressions so that the play can end with a double marriage and a happy ending. With all of Proteus’ terrible betrayals, it’s a good thing there is a dog in the show to lighten the mood.

Proteus’ servant, Launce (Andrew Cownden) and Launce’s dog, Crab (Gertie), provide huge comic relief and these two are the stars of the show. The audience melted into gasps of oohs and aahs whenever Crab was on stage, and her relationship with Launce was relatable for all dog owners as he says, “I have sat in the stocks, Crab, for puddings that you have stolen.” Standing onstage together, Launce looks around and says, “Crab, do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched?”

We couldn’t get enough of these two, and I only wish Shakespeare had involved them in more scenes. Another hilarious moment came when Launce told an extremely corny joke and followed it up with, “That joke wasn’t written by Shakespeare, but I like it better than what he wrote — something inflammatory about Jews and Christians. If the audience wants to hear that they can come back and see The Merchant of Venice.”

While this is considered by some to be a weaker play in Shakespeare’s canon, I think it is full of wit and insights, apart from the unrealistic ending. For example, there are some insult gems such as: “Oh, go suck an egg” and “Go fill your gullet.”

The best moment, though, was the new twist on the ending. Instead of Sylvia marrying Valentine (who quickly forgives his best friend for trying to steal his girl and attempting to rape her) and Julia marrying Proteus, a deplorable man who betrayed both Julia and Valentine, the two women reject them and forge a new path with the outlaws they meet in the woods who turn out to be women disguised as men. This was a hopeful ending asserting female agency and power, and it was mesmerizing.    

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