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Shakespeare for Modern Times

Hayfield stages updated 'Two Gentlemen of Verona.'

Two boys fall for the same girl, a mother tries to wed her daughter off to a classmate and a girl dresses up as a boy to spy on her boyfriend — there’s nothing quite like freshman year in college. Hayfield Secondary School’s recent production of William Shakespeare’s "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" brought to life a 300-year-old play with a modern twist.

Originally set in Verona and Milan, this contemporary version takes place in Charlottesville (following Hayfield graduates to college at the University of Virginia) and Hayfield (where other graduates have opted to attend local George Mason University). In parting, Valentine (a freshman at UVA) chides his friend Proteus for deciding to attend GMU just to go to school with his love Julia. But then Valentine himself falls “head over boots” in love with the beautiful Silvia at UVA. All seems fine until Proteus’s father decides that his son needs to attend a school farther away. After a tearful goodbye to Julia, Proteus arrives in Charlottesville only to fall in love with Silvia. What ensues is a madcap comedy that features Julia disguising herself as a boy to check on her boyfriend and Silvia’s mother attempting to chase away her suitors.

As Valentine, Carter Plemmons took the stage with bold movements and meaningful line delivery. Plemmons’ characterization was carefully balanced between the maturity of the character’s age and the immaturity of the more childish lines. As Proteus, Jesse Eftis kept his monologues fresh and interesting, never afraid to speak directly to the audience. Paige Horwitz played Julia with strong commitment to character, and the affection between Horwitz and Eftis was evident when they appeared together. Libby Dowell shone as Dr. Duquette, the caring, though interfering mother of Silvia (played with innocence by Katie Hardy). Dowell physically and vocally portrayed a believable older character quite well.

Standout Taryss Mandt as the off-beat Lance brought her own brand of odd-ball comedy complete with a puppet show (using shoes), modern language add-ins, and a canine companion named Crab. Mandt’s organic portrayal of a weird but lovable girl (made more impressive by her ability to work with the dachshund) was one of the highlights of the show, especially in her scene with Speed (Yvonne Fox). Fox’s sarcastic humor and know-it-all persona provided an excellent foil to Mandt’s unconventional comedy.

Costumes by Libby Dowell and company were natural and varied, with special touches dotted throughout. For example, Julia wore bright floral dresses as a girl who contrasted with the oversized neutral jackets she wore as a boy. Similarly, Dr. Duquette always sported a smart suit and a smart phone holster, adding to her secondary role as the capable chancellor of UVA.

While there were issues with focus, there was never a dull moment on stage. As a whole, the cast appeared secure with the difficult language, using just the right amount of gestures to convey the meaning. Hayfield’s lively production of "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" proved that Shakespeare is still relevant, sincere, and loads of fun.