Season: 2014

Empathy in The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Posted on Jun 10th, 2014 in Plays

Director's notes

Silvia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona

FAIR Assistant Director Jecamiah McCain Ybanez recently interviewed Vivia Font about the rehearsal process for The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Here are some of her responses to his questions.

This is my second year at OSF and I played in an all-female cast last year in The Tenth Muse. It’s been kind of a running theme lately. The Tenth Muse was an all-female play and, before that I did a workshop for an all-female play about a girls’ basketball team. So, I have been doing the all-female thing for a little while.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of Shakespeare’s first plays and it wasn’t one my favorites before I started working on this production. I thought it would be interesting do Two Gents with an all-female cast because the play can actually seem a bit misogynist and anti-woman. But, at the first read-through, hearing the play in female voices brought out an empathy that I hadn’t heard before.

The Two Gents rehearsal room does not feel all-female. The Tenth Muse felt defiantly all-female, but not Two Gents. I guess the cast is tapping into their male energy, or everyone is tapping into both, or there is a gender neutralizer in the room.  I can’t put my finger on why, but it doesn’t feel all-female. It feels like we are being true to all of the characters, male and female.  What is revealed by an all-female cast?  First, that women can play men just as well as men can play women. Maybe it also reveals more of the humanity of these characters, and their youth. 

My initial reaction to the end of the play was, sheesh, Julia and Silvia are being passed around like commodities. That’s going to be interesting to navigate. Erica [Sullivan, playing Julia} and I have talked a lot about that scene. It is almost a blue print for Twelfth Night. It is one of the most honest scenes in the play.  Two characters, one in the guise of a man, are connecting.  There is empathy. At the beginning of the scene, Julia wants to hate Silvia and Silvia is dismissing Julia as a man. Then there is an emotional revelation. We are playing with how much my character figures out by the end of the scene, but it doesn’t even matter. The scene is about their deep curiosity and need to connect with each other. Silvia feels terrible, she feels so much for Julia and Julia feels so much for Sylvia.  It’s empathy. That doesn’t really happen with the male characters. They don’t talk to each other about their feelings, not until the very end.

Empathy has a lot do with Sarah’s [Director Sarah Rasmussen’s] idea of forgiveness. Once you have empathy, forgiveness is a side effect. We watch these young men make a lot of mistakes, but we are still able to feel empathy for them. Christiana [Clark, playing Proteus] is doing an awesome job of showing Proteus’s desire to be true to himself, even though he is going off in crazy directions. Watching Christiana perform Proteus’s monologues about “if I am going to be true to myself, I have to do this,” I really feel like he has do what he does. I haven’t felt that before. 

What do we want the audience to walk away with?  We are all still figuring that out, that’s what rehearsal is for. Sarah has talked about community, how it is so important, to have community around us. Community helps build character. So, that is something we are exploring. Hopefully the audience will walk away feeling like women can tell stories as well as men.  Men, women whatever, I hope they walk away feeling like they’ve seen a great story.

If the audience feels empathy, then maybe the play will be a teaching moment, an opportunity to stop and think. Hopefully it makes people think about choices:  How do I operate in my personal relationships? When I see something of a boy in a girl, or a girl in a boy, what does that mean?  Sometimes it feels like a Gordian knot. We keep going around and around on these questions and we are not done. We are certainly not done with the feminist movement. I don’t even want to call it the feminist movement, it’s the human movement towards respect and equality. We have done so much, but there is still so much more to do.

Vivia Font