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Shakespeare's "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" in Blacksburg

The American Shakespeare Center, usually housed at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia, traveled to Blacksburg to perform “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” on September 15, 2016. The small cast of 10-12 actors played many roles at the iconic theater, The Lyric, to a crowd of students, professors, and community members. “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” is one of William Shakespeare’s earliest plays, and the audience remained captivated by the performance.

The play began with entertainment by the members of the acting troupe. They played instruments and belted out lyrics to current songs, and the audience sang along as they found their seats and prepared for the show to begin.

The two gentlemen that the play follows, named Proteus and Valentine, greet only to part ways as Valentine travels to Milan. Proteus, sad to see him go, rejoices in time spent with his love interest Julia. The two exchange rings and vows of love before Proteus is sent to join Valentine, where Valentine has met and wooed Sylvia. Proteus forgets Julia and dismisses his friendship with Valentine when he falls for Julia upon arrival, and the play shows the fallout of his ensuing actions as he pursues her and foils Valentine’s plans. As a comedy, the play ends happily with most events sorted out and characters satisfied.

One of the shining stars in the performance was a Montgomery County dog named Betty, who captured the hearts of the audience as the servant Lance’s dog, Crab. The servant and dog duo served as comic relief throughout the play, and the crowd audibly reacted with an “aww” every time Lance urged Crab to speak, sit, and walk with him. Crab tended to lay down, lick her paws, and stare blankly into the audience instead, much to the delight of the enraptured crowd.

Similar to the Blackfriars Theatre in London, where many of Shakespeare’s performances were originally held, the American Shakespeare Center prepared for the “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” by placing seating on The Lyric stage. Eight audience members sat in the seats of honor, interacting with the actors. Crab, unaware of the goings-on of the play around him, sat near these audience members, occasionally licking their hands and receiving pats on the head. The actors spoke directly to them, asking questions and occasionally handing them props to hold.

The American Shakespeare Center put on a lively performance of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” at The Lyric. The dedicated performers used their interactions with the audience, showcasing of a local dog, talent as musicians, and acting skill to bring Shakespeare at the Blackfriars right to our doorstep in Blacksburg.

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