No spoilers here.
Like the texts of a number of Shakespeare’s plays (The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, Othello), The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a little uncomfortable for audiences today. How can one respond to a happy ending that sees the victim of attempted rape reconciled to her attempted rapist just a few moments after the crime? How can we accept the whole cast going off to celebrate a wedding just after the Bride was almost raped by the Best Man? Well, as the Freewill Players warn us in the playbill for this year’s production, “we have tweaked Shakespeare’s ending”, and the tweak is, I feel, a profound success. By means of a final repetition (with slight modification) of a line spoken earlier in the play, the women of the play find freedom in the only way possible: as outsiders, exiles, outlaws from the male social structure of the play.
Much is often made of images of transformation in The Two Gentleman of Verona, of references to Ovid’s Metamorphoses — this thread is made obvious in the name of one of the two Gentlemen, Proteus. But in this Freewill production, the transformation is wonderfully turned away from the men who are textually the centre of the play, in the final moment — which I hope I haven’t spoiled — in which the ever-present Shakespearean crossdressing female character embraces her femaleness and offers escape to the trapped-in-their-gender-roles women of the play.
The “tweaking” of the ending is textually subtle (unlike the bitter, savage mess the Citadel recently made of The Tempest), just a repetition of a few words from earlier in the play which reveal a wonderful new depth of meaning perhaps inherent in the text. Certainly, the repeated line serves only to emphasize meanings already conveyed by the body language of the actors.
If I go on, there will be spoilers, so I will end by saying, the performers were uniformly delightful, the sound system had it’s usual glitches, and,
go see Freewill’s Two Gentlemen of Verona!