Story: Long-time pals Proteus and Valentine are separated when Valentine leaves their home town of Verona for the more cosmopolitan Milan. Upon arriving in Milan, Valentine falls in love with the Duke of Milan’s daughter Silvia, who is betrothed to a foppish aristocrat named Thurio. Shortly after, Proteus, who is in love with Julia, is sent by his father Antonio to Milan as well, where he also falls in love with Silvia, forgetting about Julia.
Proteus betrays Valentine by informing the Duke about Valentine’s intentions to elope with Silvia, leading the Duke to banish Valentine from Milan. On the outskirts of town Valentine falls in with a band of brigands, whom he cons into making him their leader. Meanwhile, Julia has traveled to Milan in the disguise of Sebastian, subsequently becoming a page to her beloved Proteus. The latter uses Sebastian in an attempt to win over Silvia, who is disgusted by Proteus’ abandonment of his true love in Verona. Ultimately, Julia’s masquerade is revealed, Proteus repents his sins and reunites with Julia, while Valentine wins the Duke’s approval to marry Silvia.
Highlights: Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble has adapted what many scholars consider to be Shakespeare’s first play, written perhaps as early as 1590, into a one-act, 60-minute exercise set on a playground. The concept works in the sense that the characters and their actions in Verona seem wildly implausible by modern standards or even compared to later works by The Bard.
In this SATE version adapted and written by William Rauch, several children of about age 10 or 11 adopt various roles in the script and put on their own version of Verona, which program notes indicate has characters “little more than children themselves: impetuous, misguided and willful.”
Other Info: SATE first performed a staged reading of Verona on a playground in Shaw Park, using a swing set, a bridge and a hollow tree for its set. Moving the action indoors, scenic painters Annie Genovese and Kay Genovese have festooned Thom Schwetye’s set construction with a back wall of bright primary colors, with varying toys in the foreground of “Mr. Shakespeare’s Daycare.”
Director Rauch joins his players as they portray kids playing Shakespearean characters in their make-believe world at the day care center. In this context, Ellie Schwetye shines as Valentine’s clownish servant Speed, the effete buffoon Thurio and a member of the outlaw gang that encounters Valentine. Schwetye amusingly contorts her face and body in exaggerations that underline how a child might approach The Bard. Similarly, Rachel Tibbetts maintains wide-eyed wonder as the little girl who plays Silvia as a fairy princess of sorts.
Chrissy Young and Kara Bellavia impersonate children who portray Valentine and Proteus, respectively, primarily staying in those characters throughout more so than the little girls they espouse to be. Tonya Darabcsek is a dutiful Julia and later an earnest Sebastian in disguise, Rauch plays a little boy hesitantly taking on the role of Julia’s servant Lucetta and Holly Hill takes on the older roles of Antonio and the Duke, perhaps because she’s wearing shoes with heels. Michael Pierce rounds out the cast in several smaller roles.
There’s a lot of energy and exuberance in this production, and the SATE troupe mostly succeeds in interpreting this work of youthful literary inexperience in a clever and sprightly fashion. Still, it’s more a fluffy diversion and theatrical exercise than a witty, incisive statement.
Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Group: Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
Venue: Black Cat Theatre, 2810 Sutton Blvd.
Dates: November 17, 18, 19
Tickets: $15; contact 827-5760 or email@example.com
Photos courtesy of Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble