Byline: Eileen Daspin

A 14-by-25-foot billboard of a naked Kate Moss stretched out in a Calvin Klein ad probably wasn't the backdrop Shakespeare envisioned when he wrote "Two Gentlemen of Verona." But for Adrian Hall--who is directing the comedy at the Delacourte Theater in New York's Central Park--the set wouldn't have been complete without it.
"I wanted to find as many metaphors for Italy as I could," says Hall, who also populates the stage with a buxom lady-in-waiting on a motorcycle, washerwomen beating laundry in a man-made stream (filled with 20,000 gallons of tap water), accordion players and a roving band of Italian guerrillas.
"Billboards in Italy are so stylish in so many ways. In the middle of these old ruins, you find hundreds of posters and billboards. And the ad is what the play is about. Obsession, obsession with the opposite sex and with the same sex. We wanted something to reflect today's point of view."
Set in a vaguely Elizabethan Verona and Milan, "Two Gentlemen of Verona" is as current as a Mike Nichols romantic comedy. It deals with two pairs of lovers, a charged friendship between two men, a fight over a girl--and has a court jester who talks like Groucho Marx.
"Almost everything about the play is contemporary," says Hall. "The problem is how to get to that. You have to take into consideration what it meant when it was written and what it means today...Today we're so into an androgynous look, women with short hair, men with long hair, it's hard to make that seem unusual.
"What hooked me about the play was that it was about love, but the main plotline was about these two boys' friendship-love," Hall continues. "It's the most misunderstood concept today. We consider the only serious love the quest for a mate. The perfect friendship is friendship outside the sexual search. I have friendships like that that have lasted 40 years. I don't have sexual relationships anywhere near that long."
Known for his unorthodox staging--when he directed "As You Like It" as part of the Shakespeare Festival two years ago, he put sheep, tractors and pigs on the proscenium--Hall's creative approach sometimes runs into problems. When Hall told Parks Department officials that he was going to build a small river on stage for "Two Gentlemen," which opened Thursday night, they balked, saying the water would bring rats into the park. He finally convinced them. But on the first night of previews, the sailboat that was supposed to carry two of the actors across the lake behind the Delacourte sank.
"Everyone had to run down to the lake and save the actors and pull out the luggage," laughs Hall. "The audience was stunned, then erupted into howls." Sometimes, it seems that a Higher Power is keeping an eye on Hall's handiwork. Last Saturday night during a storm, the neon cross that tops the on-stage tower was blown out by lightning. Smiles Hall, "Some wag said God was striking at Kate Moss's behind and missed."

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