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Two Gents' worth of Shakespeare

Thursday, June 17, 2010

(Photo)
Valentine (Patrick Waller), right, and Proteus (Pete Vann) try to figure what to do about Valentine's banishment.
(T-G Photo by Mary Reeves) [Order this photo]
If Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer were born about 500 years earlier into Italian families and decided they wanted to travel and seek their fortunes, they just might have been the subjects of a Shakespeare play.

In a way -- they are.

Patrick Waller and Pete Vann are taking on the lead roles in the Tennessee Shakespeare Festival's 2010 production "Two Gentlemen of Verona (Tenn.)," which opens Friday night in Bell Buckle. Patrick will be playing Valentine and Pete has the role of Proteus, but it's hardly the first time the two equity actors have been on stage together. or the last.

Role reversal

"We were in the Tennessee Rep production of 'Big River,'" said Waller. "He was Tom Sawyer and I was Huckleberry Finn."

Earlier that same season, the two reversed the roles in the Children's Theater production of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, with Waller taking on the role of Tom and Vann being Huck.

"And next season, we'll be in 'The 39 Steps,'" said Waller. "We play the clowns and between the two of us, we do more than 100 characters."

Time to 'shine

For now, though, they are focusing on "Two Gents," as they call it. The play, a comedy, is all about friendship and love, and how friendship can get in the way of love, and vice versa. In the original version, Proteus and Valentine try to make their way in the world, leaving Verona to find their fortunes in Milan. What they find, of course, is love -- with the same girl. Banishment and bandits complicate the plot and in director Lane Davies' version, you can throw in some banjos as well.

"We've made the bandits moonshiners," said Davies. "Our version is 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Tenn.)'"

Modernized Bard

The set reflects the change -- a clever construction that doubles as both a country store and a stage reminiscent of the Ryman Auditorium, stained glass and all. The music reflects it too, with composer Matthew Carlton writing some clever new lyrics for some classic country tunes. In Davies' updated version -- with the words themselves still true to the Bard -- the two gents are leaving Verona, Tenn., in search of fame and fortune in 1960 as country and rockabilly fills the nation's airwaves.

In changing the bandits to moonshiners, Davies has also made their leader "Outlaw Maw," played by the irrepressibly funny Martha Wilkinson.

"I'm taking a chance with Martha," Lane joked. "You never know what's going to happen ..."

(Photo)
Director Lane Davies, right, feeds lines to performers during rehearsal for the Tennessee Shakespeare Festival's 'Two Gentlemen of Verona (Tenn.)', while Jerry Winsett, playing 'Launce,' waits for his turn on stage. Held on the grounds of Webb School, it is the third year for the nonprofit, professional production. The play opens Friday and runs every weekend from now until July 11.
(T-G Photo by Mary Reeves)
It's not the first time they've worked together either. The award-winning Martha was Mrs. Lovett to Lane's Sweeney Todd in last year's sold-out Nashville Reperatory Theater production of that musical.

Familiar talent

For those who have been to the Shakespeare festival in its first two years, there will be many familiar and funny faces. "A Midsummer Night's Dream's" Bottom, Jerry Winsett returns as Launce, the Proteus' servant and comic relief, although he has to share the stage with Crab the Scene Stealing Dog. Joey Waldrop, whose portrayal of a wall in "Midsummer" had audiences laughing, takes on the role of a state trooper in "Two Gents" -- possible the tallest state trooper ever. Local talents Helen Bartlett, Tea Phillips and Harley Walker are taking the stage again, as are funny men Bobby Wyckoff and Zack McCann.

The play opens Friday at 6 p.m., with the curtain at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 for festival seating, and $15 for premium seating (under the tent). Premium seats are $10 in advance. Everyone is encouraged to bring food, drink, picnic blankets, chairs, and bug spray. Free rain ponchos will be provided if needed. There will also be food vendors on site.

Helping hands

The Tennessee Shakespeare Festival is donating 20 percent of the Friday night gate to Nashville flood relief.

Special benefits and discounts will be available for every night of the show, which runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday every weekend until closing night, July 11.

Sunday will be a benefit show for the Argie Cooper library, so everyone is encouraged to attend to raise money for the building fund.

For ticket information visit: www.ticketsnashville.com or www.tennesseeshakespearefestival.com