Valentine’s Day came with some laughs thanks to Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”

Mailyn Abreu

Connor Hammond (left) and Michael Empson are Proteus and Valentine in Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Photo by KRG Photography LLC

Theatre fans, including FAU students and faculty, came out in the cold to enjoy some laughs during the premier of Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” presented by the Department of Theatre and Dance on Friday, Feb. 14 at 7 p.m., in FAU’s Studio One Theater.

As soon as the play began, the audience started warming up. The actors quickly engaged with the crowd, changing the mood from quiet snickers to louder laughs in a matter of minutes.

The romantic comedy fit perfectly into the theme of Valentine’s Day with its portrayal of the difficulties of love and friendship. The witty, fast-paced banter between the characters and the sexual innuendos managed to keep the audience on their toes.

The play, set in 1590, follows two friends, Valentine (played by Michael Empson) and Proteus (played by Connor Hammond). Valentine decides to travel from Verona to Milan to expand his horizons and find new opportunities. Proteus is then forced by his father to follow Valentine even though it means leaving the woman he loves, a lady of Verona named Julia (played by Katy Slaven).

In Milan, the duo encounter several obstacles in their friendship with each other. Valentine tells Proteus he is in love with the Duke’s daughter Silvia (played by Elizabeth Price). The Duke (played by Scott Wells) does not approve, however, as she is engaged to Thurio (played by Jack Kelly) who is wealthy but very foolish in Silvia’s eyes.

To make matters worse Proteus also falls for Silvia, forgetting his love for Julia and endangering his friendship with Valentine. Shakespeare’s first cross-dressing character Julia, the heroine of the play, dresses up as a page boy named Sebastian to go out and find her lover Proteus.

Lovers Silvia (played by Elizabeth Price) and Valentine (played by Michael Empson) of Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona." Photo  by KRG Photography LLC
Lovers Silvia (played by Elizabeth Price) and Valentine (played by Michael Empson) of Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Photo by KRG Photography LLC

By the end of the play, friendships are tested, secrets are discovered and it all comes together in a typical hilarious Shakespeare style.

“I have seen other plays by Shakespeare,” Kelsey Landau, a senior political science major said. “This is my first time seeing this one and I loved it. Overall I thought it was great.”

According to the program note, written by the director and a former Chair of the Department of Theatre Jean-Louis Baldet, “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” is Shakespeare’s first comedy but it is not one of his well-known plays. It does however foreshadow a lot of elements that Shakespeare would expand on in his later pieces.

“Every other year the Department of Theatre and Dance attempts to select one of Shakespeare’s works as a part of our academic or summer seasons,” Baldet said. “This year, as we open this production on the day of our national commemoration of love and those we love, it seems most appropriate to offer our audiences a special Shakespeare Valentine.”

The set was a mix of the city in Verona, the home of the Duke of Milan, a castle-like piece with a balcony set as Silvias bedroom, and forest areas in between Verona and Milan. They play was not limited to the stage area as the actors made full use of the theatre space, frequently entering and exiting through the crowd.

“The acting is great,” Devin Weinberg, a freshman political science major said. “Two of the actors are my professors and the set was AMAZING. I should throw that out there, all in caps.”

Everything from the stage design to the music and costumes followed the time period beautifully. It all came together with no awkward pauses between the actors lines and music. Transitions from scene to scene flowed gracefully even as the actors used the seating area as part of their path on and off stage.The play went by without noticeable flaws, besides a missed music cue, and the performers were able to execute Shakespearean grammar well.

“I feel about this performance how I feel about most shows,” Michael Empson who played Valentine said, “like I haven’t done it justice, but being on stage with the cast was an honor and great.”

The other loving couple of Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona," Proteus (played by Connor Hammond) and Julia (played by Katy Slaven). Photo by   by KRG Photography LLC
The other loving couple of Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” Proteus (played by Connor Hammond) and Julia (played by Katy Slaven). Photo by by KRG Photography LLC

The play not only follows the lead gentlemen but also shows how love affects everyone around those in love.

Others affected by love are Lance (played by Wade Appleton ), a servant to Proteus, and Speed (played by Eduardo Rivera), a servant to Valentine. They help their masters throughout the play and also discuss their own romances. The servants portray the silly, less educated people of the time period but who are no less immune to the powers of love. The more casual tone of the play, brought by the colloquial characters along with the quick and witty lines, helped make Shakespeare’s language understandable.

Appleton and Rivera also frequently used physical gestures, like mocking of other characters and sexual gestures when speaking of the ladies that were the love interests of the main characters, to bring some laughs.

Lance’s dog, Crab (played by A.J Taylor), was also a memorable highlight of the play with his loud barking, which woke up anyone who could have fallen asleep in the audience, and the mimicking of his master. The connection between the man and dog reinforces the idea of friendship in the play.

“I came to this play because of my appreciation of theatre class,” Charles Greedman, a computer engineering major said, “I think that the play was really well done and set.”

At the end, the cast received a standing ovation from half of the audience. Once the actors came out, they were met with many congratulations from most of the audience members.

All in all it was a funny, warm way to spend an evening on the most romantic night of the year and more interesting than the usual dinner and a movie date.

“The Two Gentlemen of Verona” will be showing Friday, Feb. 21 through Sunday, Feb. 23. General admission tickets are $20 and $12 for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and children under age 12. Group prices are available. Tickets can be purchased at www.fauevents.com.