The student cast, from left to right, includes Lexi Silva as Julia, Luke Gonzales as Proteus, Christopher Graham as Valentine and Kayla DiDonato as Silvia.
The seventh annual production of Shakespeare Under the Stars will continue the tradition of bringing an outstanding live theatre experience to the Central Valley community. Performances will be held in the outdoor University Amphitheatre May 3-8, and admission is free.
“When people come out for Shakespeare Under the Stars, they experience a production that rivals some of the major Shakespeare festivals across the country,” said Theatre Professor John Mayer. “And it’s free, thanks to the support of Prime Shine Car Wash again this year.”
Mayer said that support from the community is critical to keep this annual tradition thriving. Crowds over the past six years have ranged from 3,500 to 6,000. This year’s production will be the second year that the event will benefit from a partnership with Prime Shine Car Wash, the Central Valley’s largest car wash chain.
“Prime Shine believes that a healthy community has a vibrant arts and cultural scene,” said Evan Porges, president of Prime Shine Car Wash. We are proud to partner with Stanislaus State to help provide this world class production to the students and community.”
This year’s production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” brings Chicago-based artist Daniel Gately back to Stanislaus State as guest director. He has been onstage for Shakespeare Under the Stars as the Earl of Kent in the 2015 production of “King Lear” and in the title role of Macbeth in 2013. Gately also guest-directed Shakespeare productions at Stan State in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
“In all the years I’ve done theatre, Dan is right up there with the most knowledgeable and creative Shakespeare scholars and directors that I’ve ever known,” Mayer said. “He has a passion for Shakespeare and he is phenomenal at bringing Shakespeare to a broad audience and conveying the performance of Shakespeare to student actors.”
The cast includes students Christopher Graham, Luke Gonzales, Kayla DiDonato and Lexi Silva in the roles of best friends Valentine and Proteus and their love interests Silvia (in love with Valentine) and Julia (in love with Proteus). A student ensemble will also be featured in the production. Joining the cast are guest artists Jim Kocher as the Duke of Milan and Rush Pearson in the comedic role of Launce.
Students will be involved in all aspects of the performance, from set creation to technical execution and also on stage. In a matter of weeks, the outdoor University Amphitheatre — essentially a bare, concrete platform — will be completely transformed and imbued with the ability to transport audiences into the world of Shakespeare.
“The thing I love about this particular venue, the production team and the students is that we are allowed to perform Shakespeare on an epic scale, yet the whole process feels very intimate,” Gately said. “I have never experienced that anywhere else. It’s a beautiful, magical space.”
Audiences are encouraged to bring a blanket or low-backed chairs, and a picnic to enjoy on the lawn as they experience an evening of Shakespeare under the stars.
The comedy “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” is a very early play by Shakespeare — considered by some as one of his first, if not the first written by the young playwright. It follows the adventures of two bosom buddies, Valentine and Proteus. When Proteus falls in love with his best friend's girlfriend, they find themselves torn between the bonds of male friendship and romance.
Gately said that the production will be very upbeat, incorporating music and dancing from myriad eras. The action of the play will be set in the vibrant American west.
“This play feels young and vital and that suggested America to me — in particular the wild west when that part of the nation was forming and had a sort of adventurous innocence,” Gately said. “The combination of musical styles will create a fun element that the audience can really embrace. There might even be a bar room brawl. It is the wild west after all.”
Audiences can also look forward to incredibly colorful characters in extremely comedic situations as they tell a story of friendship, love and sticking together through thick and thin.
“It’s a very character-driven piece, and I think a lot of people will connect with the message of the story,” Gately said. “In the end, both love and friendship can be triumphant. Love, loyalty and honesty are all issues that our characters struggle with in this play.”
For details about the performance of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” please visit www.csustan.edu/shakespeare.