By HAILEY BACHRACH
How do you become a man?
As an actress onstage, that is. There are traditional costuming clues, of course, like binding your breasts and cutting your hair. But do you puff out your chest and swagger, or is it better to affect a casual air and a slouch? How best to modulate your voice, to make sure no sudden squeaks or cracks give you away? When your best friend is leaving home for the first time, should you stick to shaking hands, or can you hug?
Sarah Rasmussen, director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s current all-female production of Two Gentlemen of Verona, seems to have noticed that the eponymous young protagonists of Shakespeare’s play are asking themselves the same questions. Early on in the play, the father of one of said gentlemen acknowledges that his son “cannot be a perfect man,/Not being tried and tutor’d in the world.” He needs to travel, either to court or the wars or university. “Whither were I best to send him?” the father frets. What makes a perfect man?
In this, one of Shakespeare’s earliest (if not his first) comedies, best friends Proteus and Valentine find themselves separated for the first time when they embark on apparently incompatible paths to manhood: Proteus is madly in love with the Veronese maiden Julia, whereas Valentine is off to make a name for himself in the court of Milan. Their mirrored goals find mirrored looks in actresses Sofia Jean Gomez and Christiana Clark. Both tall and husky voiced, Gomez’s Valentine sports a bleach-blond fringe and an exuberant grace, while Clark’s Proteus has cultivated an impressive bouffant and a studied languor. Valentine flails, Proteus saunters. Both prove false. Valentine throws over his devotion to a single life when he falls in love with the Duke of Milan’s daughter Silvia; Proteus loses himself when he, too, is enraptured with Silvia’s beauty and decides to betray both Julia and Valentine to win her heart.