C&G’s “Two Gentlemen* of Verona” (a gender-flipped Shakespearean misadventure) opens this Friday in Hollywood, CA. We got the chance to sit down with director Marguerite French to talk about the piece:
What was your inspiration for “Two Gentlemen* of Verona?” When were you first drawn to the piece?
I recently crossed gender to play the male villain in a Jacobean drama, and it was a powerful experience for me — to explore the ways I (and many other people) perform gender. When Zach let me know that a gender-flipped “Two Gents” would be a part of C&G’s first season, a light went on in me, and I thought, “I have to have a hand in it!”
In thinking about performing gender in a way that isn’t stereotypical, I turned to [the classical Japanese theatre style of] Kabuki, which has a fascinating history of performing gender, and also – in my opinion – of squelching women’s creativity and sexuality. With the bold colors, quick changes, and character archetypes, it felt like a natural fit.
Tell us about the process — was there a particular method you used with your actors?
I knew that I wanted male and female movement in the “Two Gents*” world to be different from OUR world. I was curious how men and women would move differently if traditional dominance roles were reversed. We began working on that physicality through gestures and postures pretty early in the process. Beyond that, we dug deep into the text to understand what we were saying, and looked for the emotional truth of each moment.
What moment of the “Two Gents*” process was most challenging? Most memorable?
I think these moments are one and the same. There was a little creative resistance from the men in the cast because it seemed at first that they didn’t quite understand WHY they would move as though they were ashamed, or what the artistic benefit of feeling uncomfortable in their bodies would be. For both men, there was a moment that hit — and suddenly I saw the work manifesting in their bodies. I could see they understood a perspective that was new for them.
How do you feel about this play hitting at a particular cultural moment? Do you feel like the reception or people’s reaction to it would have been different if it had been a few years ago?
I was very eager to get started on this work because so much is happening right now with #metoo and #timesup. I definitely think the conversation has changed since this most recent Presidential election — the issues remain the same, but people are talking about them more. I think the current social and political environment will help our perspective land more deeply within audiences.
In addition to directing “Two Gents,” you serve as Coin & Ghost’s Managing Director. What excites you about the organization and their work?
Coin & Ghost runs on a philosophy of inclusivity and support, which can be lacking in such a competitive field. It’s a person-to-person respect, as well as a matter of intentional policy — which manifest in ways like diverse casting and an all-female design team, or the company’s commitment to making tickets prices accessible (for example). I believe art is vital to a healthy society, and art-with-intention even more so. Coin & Ghost produces the latter.
In terms of how people approach the classics in theatre, what do you hope to see more of?
Gender flipping! I can’t overstate the transformative process it is for actors and audiences to see these words and behaviors coming from a different gender than expected (or written). I want to see more diverse casting and non-linear design choices. I want to see more diversity in design and production teams. More Rough/Holy theater, per Peter Brook.
What is your dream for this project?
I hope it adds something to the conversation on gender roles and enthusiastically consensual sex. I hope it makes people uncomfortable enough to change some hard truth they’ve been resisting in themselves, no matter how small or large.
C&G’s “Two Gentlemen* of Verona” runs March 16th-April 8th (Thurs-Sun, 8pm) at the Ruby Theatre in Hollywood.