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Teen Critic: Students Review Two Gents

About the Program

Designed for high school students interested in journalism and/or critical writing, the Teen Critic Program at Shakespeare Theatre Company teaches students how to view theatrical productions with a critical eye and how to write an informed comprehensive theatre review.

Teen Critics will be invited to the Press Night for each production (two complimentary tickets per production), receive a press packet, preferred press seating and will have the opportunity to meet with professional theatre critics from local newspapers and members of Shakespeare Theatre Company staff to learn about how to write an effective theatre review.

After seeing each show, Teen Critics will write a review and submit it to the Shakespeare Theatre Company Education Department (due one week after Press Night).  STC education staff will work with the Teen Critic to make revisions and then the review will be published in a school newspaper or online.

Elevating Adolescence to an Art Form

By Emma Marshall (Sidwell Friends School)

Having been informed that the Shakespeare Theatre’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona was all about teen angst, I was prepared to feel patronized. I went in ready to condemn all the stereotypes and belittlement that would surely fill this play. I was absolutely wrong. This production, directed by PJ Paparelli, presents the conflicts of adolescent rage, joy and love in a way that made me, as a teen, able to laugh at myself while retaining a sense of dignity and the value of my own emotions. It’s an honest performance in which all involved seem to remember their own adolescent days with mixed fondness and frustration.

The story of these two gentlemen is indeed adolescent. Two friends, Valentine (Andrew Veenstra) and Proteus (Nick Dillenburg), go abroad. Proteus leaves his girlfriend Julia, played by Miriam Silverman, behind, only to fall in love with Valentine’s girlfriend Silvia (Natalie Mitchell), forgetting entirely about his own love. Everything explodes into emotional confusion, just as one would expect it to. The story ends in a somewhat contrived and implausible manner, with all the characters forgiving grievous wrongs with what seems to be very little reason. It’s a play full of anger and hurt that at times seems bewildering.

While adolescent rage may be a timeless theme, Paparelli has placed his portrait of angst firmly in the now. His set, designed by Walt Spangler, is a conglomeration of highway underpass, industrial skyline, nightclub and Super Bowl ad. Constructed out of grimy silver catwalks and asphalt flooring, the entire stage is plastered in logos—Apple™, McDonald’s™ and General Mills™, to name a few. Set above and in front of all the action and ads is a screen that constantly updates the audience on the chronology and location of each scene, written to sound like a 90’s kid sending texts—sentence fragments, irony and a hint of mockery. Costume designer Paul Spadone has created 16th century clothing out of 21st century material—denim, skinny pants and high-tops. The lighting is reminiscent of a rock concert, which is spot-on, considering the way music is entwined into the show. U2 and Beyoncé are the most recognizable artists whose music makes an appearance, as the cast croon pop and rock, including a truly spectacular version of “With or Without You” rendered by all four main characters. (It should be noted that a rock opera version of this same play was also running briefly at the Shakespeare Theatre.) The busy, glittering-yet-grimy stage is perfectly suited for this somewhat painful and very impulsive comedy. It makes the story relatable and current while intensifying the extreme lows and highs of the characters.

In addition to their solid singing, the cast is incredibly able. Andrew Veenstra expresses the right kind of naivety and emotion as Valentine, who trusts his more guileful friend implicitly. Nick Dillenburg is immensely sinister as Proteus while plotting under the glow of the Apple™ logo, but keenly repentant while crumpled on the asphalt. Miriam Silverman displays a perfect amount of conflict and heartbreak as Julia, in contrast with Natalie Mitchell, as Silvia, who seems long out of touch with her inner hissy fit. She appears just slightly too adult, too affected for the role, appearing to have outgrown the violent tempers of those around her. I would be severely remiss if I did not note the charming performance of Crab the dog, a sweet and loveable canine who accompanies the comedic servant Launce (Euan Morton) throughout the play. The dog is well-trained and emotive—a scene-stealer at all times. Morton, along with Adam Green as Speed, provides wonderful moments of laughter in a somewhat confusing and dark comedy.

This performance is not for the faint of heart—it includes characters pounding back drinks and a scene that includes cutting as a focal point. That is not to say that it is too dark or too melodramatic. One is convinced that the characters truly feel pain that drives them to their darker actions. Despite being one of Shakespeare’s more far-fetched plays, and despite the fact that this production is based on a stereotype of adolescence, it feels real and honest in an unexpected and fresh way.

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