By: Laighton Cain, ITJA Contributor
The world needs Shakespeare, but our kids are losing him: they don’t have appreciation for literary masterpieces and performing arts. The SCAD Department of Performing Arts and The Classical Touring Company have taken some innovative—and controversial—steps in Vivian Majkowski’s contemporary adaption of William Shakespeare’s comedy “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” to make his work accessible to the school and college students who have seen the work on tour this year. They have modernized physical aspects like costumes and set and made Shakespeare’s language more understandable.
I was apprehensive before the show because the original script had been cut. My preference is for Shakespeare’s words untamed and uncut. I also prefer the traditional Elizabethan style. But I went because I was intrigued. I have been surprised by past adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. I wanted to see if they would surprise me.
The first surprise as I walked into the theatre was the set. I was enraptured; it was minimalistic, yet it commanded the audience’s attention. The white backdrop was coated in sea foam green lighting, which invigorated the electric colors of the set and costumes. The darkness surrounding the stage shocked Márien De Moya’s set design to life. The painted picture of the city square set the intended time period.
The next surprise as the show began was the costumes. Marjorie Ward’s creations were ineffaceable. Each character’s color scheme individualized their costumes while subtly pairing them with other characters. Julia (Emily Tomlinson) and Proteus (Bowen Fox) are supposed to be together because of the warm colors; Julia wore a radiantly orange skirt, and Proteus wore cherry red slacks. Julia’s urban chic skirt fell below the knee. The length harkens back to the Elizabethan era; an admirable parallel. Cheers to Ward for Proteus’s piano socks.
Music director Gia Erichson’s band electrified the crowd. Leonard W. Rose aroused the audience with his guitar. Isaac Spooner made a valiant attempt at serenading the audience with his violin. Ayla Bellamy made an appreciable contribution to the musical numbers with her clarinet, but her singing voice was indelible. Her warm resonance stimulated my veins.
The band’s cover of Sam Smith’s romantic heartbreaker “Lay Me Down” raised my spirit to the heavens as burning chills seared through my body. Their rendition of Drake’s iconic wonder “Hotline Bling” was gallant, yet discouraging. The intention was understandable; the presentation was not victorious.
The third surprise came as Proteus and the band performed a rap in which Proteus proclaims his admiration for Sylvia (Chloe Kay). It was fresh, unexpected, exciting. It would have been fully satisfying if the text was audible, but the vocals and the instruments were unbalanced.
The fourth and final surprise was the actors. The most thrilling aspect of the acting was the language; the verbal rhythm was natural, and the text was understandable. Bowen Fox made me fall in love with Proteus, and then despise him. Justin Jackson brought out the romance in the text in Act III, Scene I. The audience gushed with laughter over Logan Coffey. The ensemble’s work was stunning, satisfying, successful. They fastened their grip on the audience’s attention, and kept it. I fell in love with Shakespeare all over again.
They achieved a significant feat: they brought out the true beauty of the language. At times, however, they struggled with the physical acting, diction, and volume. Some actors upstaged themselves; others did not appropriately articulate.
These artists have refreshed one of the greatest works in theatrical history, and have succeeded in making Shakespeare accessible to the children of America. I hope for more artists like these in the future.