A Very Interesting Question

I admit it. Sometimes I choose a show for us to produce essentially knowing nothing about it. I don't do that very often, but every once in a while I do. I did that with Songs for a New World, Floyd Collins, The Nervous Set, and most of all, Hair. In all those cases, something in my gut told me there was gold there and so I followed my gut. My gut is never wrong about such things. Seriously. Never.

Other times -- most times -- I choose shows that I already know backwards and forwards, and really understand in-depth. That was true of Bat Boy, Urinetown, JC Superstar, High Fidelity, Evita, and lots of others.

But there's a third category, that only has a few shows in it. With these shows, when we start work I have a general sense of why they're wonderful, but I don't really get them yet deep down. That part happens as we work. That was true of The Robber Bridegroom, Return to the Forbidden Planet, and Love Kills. And now Two Gents.

I've always understood the visual and physical style of Two Gents (very much like Hair) and I've had the general sense all along that this is a story about friendship and romance, and considering its original Elizabethan period, about how friendship is somehow nobler than romance. But with the added resonance of 1971, the hippie movement, the women's movement, and of course the beginning of the "Browning" of America as a big wave of Latino immigration came to New York, this becomes a more complicated story.

I think this isn't really about friendship or romance, though that may have been what it was about back in 1590. At its heart I think it's about growing up. Almost identical themes to High Fidelity and one of my favorite films, Diner. All three stories are about young men trapped between childhood and adulthood, wanting the permission to be selfish that comes with childhood as well as the freedom that comes with adulthood. These are thoughtless, selfish heroes, and like Luke Skywalker (or any other hero myth), they all have to go through obstacles and learn about themselves before they can be successfully integrated into civilized society.

I remember when we produced High Fidelity (returning in June 2012!), we were all struck by how exactly it described Generation X, but here's Shakespeare back in 1590 getting it just as exactly right. Kinda cool. Kinda freaky too. He was good.

As with many of Shakespeare's plays, the journey here is both internal and external. The physical journey in the story stands in for their interior journey from the innocent, safe world of childhood, in the form of small town Verona, to the more complicated, more dangerous, more consequential world of adulthood, in the form of the big city Milan. Proteus must learn that he's too old to play games with people's lives, that getting what he wants can't be his only concern anymore. They're growing up and they have to live grown up lives now. That means accepting responsibility, apologizing for wrongs committed, and because it's a Shakespeare comedy, getting married!

But there's another layer to the story, suggested by the multi-ethnic approach of the original and its politics and social commentary. This is also a story about America growing up when it comes to sex and gender, having finally reached national puberty at long last with the Sexual Revolution, but still scared of these new feelings. And still fiercely and obliviously sexist. We see this moment in time today through the eyes of a post-millennial America, and that changes the show from a snapshot of "Now" to a period piece about a pivotal moment in American culture -- exactly like Hair. Still, those of us working on the show have to put ourselves back in that 1971 zeitgeist.

It's funny, now that I think about it... Two Gents is about young men trapped between childhood and adulthood. And so is High Fidelity, which we've already produced and will produce again next season. That's also essentially what bare is about, our next show. It's also what Passing Strange is about, our fall show. What does that say about our times? What does it say about the issues swimming around my head these days?

Somehow there's often a very cool nexus between New Line shows and the headlines. I remember when we put a scaled-down, re-imagined Camelot into an early season, and after we had announced the season, the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. So by the time we opened, everyone was following this sexual scandal that was threatening to bring down an administration. It was like Lerner and Loewe had written a not very subtle allegory about Bill and Hillary Clinton.

In 2007, just a few months before we opened Urinetown, the Democrats took back Congress, and there we were, doing this show about how good-intended liberals will destroy everything. A year later we produced Assassins, right around the time that Barack Obama emerged as a viable candidate and people started worrying about his safety. It gave the show a whole new and very creepy resonance. It all felt less impossible.

And now, for the past several months we've been hearing about a rise in gay teen suicide, just as we're getting ready to work on bare, a very contemporary piece that deals in part with teen suicide.

And today, as we work on Two Gents, our country seems to be struggling to grow up itself. I hear our political pundits sputter and rage over imagined demons, outraged at the suggestion that we should all be more decent to each other, and I can't help but think it's exactly that childish thoughtlessness and selfishness, and a lack of empathy or respect, that drive Proteus.

...and Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity and Michael Savage and Mark Levin and Hugh Hewitt...

There's so much in this show to explore! There's nothing more fun to digging down into a really great piece of writing. And both the Shakespeare and the newer elements are so beautiful, so ballsy, and so exactly right. Just like Hair was, this is a show like no other. I'm already having fun and we've barely begun.

Long Live the Musical!