Erica McClure, Andrea Lowry and Lucas Adams in "The Lobbyists of Verona." | Courtesy of Theatre [502]
Erica McClure, Andrea Lowry and Lucas Adams in “The Lobbyists of Verona.” | Courtesy of Theatre [502]
When the members of Theatre [502] debut “The Two Lobbyists of Verona” Wednesday night at the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, it’ll nab a couple of firsts for both theater organizations. It’ll be the first time Theatre [502] has partnered with the summer festival. It’ll also be the first time a world premiere of a play is performed on the Kentucky Shakespeare main stage. And lastly, it’ll be the first time Louisville theater-goers get a chance to see a Theatre [502] production free of charge.

Kentucky Shakespeare approached Theatre [502] earlier this year to be a part of their Community Partners Week, where they give up their stage to other troupes in town. They were immediately on board and commissioned their playwrights, Diana Grisanti and Steve Moulds, to come up with a story that payed homage to Shakespeare as well as this season of Kentucky Shakespeare.

In a press release, Kentucky Shakespeare’s Matt Wallace says he’s delighted to work with Theatre [502] and that he’s always been a fan of their work and creative team.

The playwrights came up with “The Two Lobbyists of Verona,” a comedy that’ll be directed by Theatre [502] co-artistic director Amy Attaway and includes numerous Shakespeare in-jokes — mainly for the scholars and theater geeks in the crowd, says Moulds.

Leah Roberts and Michael Drury in "The Lobbyists of Verona." | Courtesy of Theatre [502]
Leah Roberts and Michael Drury in “The Lobbyists of Verona.” | Courtesy of Theatre [502]
He tells Insider that their biggest challenge was being true to the company’s own aesthetics while at the same time honoring the Bard.

“We needed to write something that had a reason to be on the Kentucky Shakespeare stage, but we still wanted it to feel like us — to have our sense of humor and tell a contemporary story,” he explains. “And we wanted it to be a Theatre [502] play, too. That was a balancing act, for sure. Also, the soliloquies we wrote in iambic pentameter took a lot of work — enjoyable work, but work.”

The plot revolves around the small Rust Belt town of Verona, Ky., where oil and gas have been discovered after a massive storm. When Big Oil shows up offering promises of wealth and prosperity in return for “light fracking,” County Council president Katie Connelly must fight to spare her town environmental destruction by suggesting her own business upstart: The World of Will, a store for all things Shakespeare.

Moulds says he and Grisanti reread the three plays from this season’s Kentucky Shakespeare — “The Tempest,” “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Macbeth” — to pen the new play, but they did not need a crash course in Shakespeare history.

“I feel like if you’re a theater or an English major, you log plenty of hours with Shakespeare already, and both Diana and I acted in and studied those plays enough as students where it’s something we can access readily,” he says.

Ann-Claude Rakotoniaina in "The Lobbyists of Verona." | Courtesy of Theatre [502]
Ann-Claude Rakotoniaina in “The Lobbyists of Verona.” | Courtesy of Theatre [502]
Moulds isn’t too worried about pleasing theater fanatics. He says there are so many jokes and lines designed for Shakespeare fans, that it should be clear the playwrights created a story that has great affection for the source material.

“It’s possible they’ll find fault with our iambic pentameter, but I stand by our work,” he jokes.

Asked which Shakespeare play is his favorite, Moulds vacillates between “Othello” and “Twelfth Night,” but he’s more decisive when it comes to his least favorite.

“That one is definitely ‘The Tempest,'” he says. “I’ve just never enjoyed that play, even though ‘Two Lobbyists’ leans heavily on it for inspiration.”

“The Two Lobbyists of Verona” runs Aug. 5 and Aug. 8-9 at 8 p.m. at the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheatre in Central Park. Admission is free.

Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."