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Much Ado About Nothing

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Although not usually classified as one of the “problem plays,” Shakespearean scholars commonly identify several inconsistencies in “Much Ado About Nothing,” a comedy written in the Bard’s second period, beginning in 1600. Among the discussed dilemmas are evidences of the script’s piecemeal revision, which impact the plot’s flow and the portrayal of at least one main character.

The Old Globe Theatre’s worthy production of this “at issue” play attempts to make up for some of the flaws of a patchwork structure, while ignoring others. The result is a show as uneven as the script, interesting and witty, even hilarious, at times, protracted and perplexing at others, but commendable for its contribution to the canon and its social commentary. Social historians note that audience interpretations of the character’s motivations and manners would have been much different five hundred years ago, and modern audiences would do well to consider the play in its original context.

The story focuses on love, villainy and betrayal, with two courtship rituals as dueling plots, and a sub-plot about civic order and punishment. The love angles beam in on Beatrice (Georgia Hatzis) and Benedick (Jonno Roberts), a verbally sparring duo whose match is conceived and produced by their friends, and Hero (an appealing and winning Winslow Corbett) and Claudio (Kevin Alan Daniels), whose coupling is of the more time-honored moony wooing variety. In Shakespeare’s typical non-sentimental twisting of the expected, it is Claudio who acts the villain when he disavows Hero at the altar, mistakenly believing she has been unfaithful. Self-avowed villain, Don John (an unsettlingly wicked Jay Whittaker), choreographed Claudio’s mistake. Aided by his followers, Conrade (Jonathan Spivey) and Borachio (Michael Stewart Allen), and employing disguise and coercion, the bastard brother of prince Don Pedro (Donald Carrier) deceived the love-struck Claudio into believing what he thought he had seen. An unlikely turn of events reveals the scam. And it is the third sub-plot, starring the town constable Dogberry (John Cariani), that creates the opportunity for Claudio’s revelation and redemption.

Director Ron Daniels aptly stages the action during the Victorian era, when the soldiers that make up half of this production’s fine ensemble could have just returned from the 5-month-long Anglo-Persian War, fought in Afghanistan. Deirdre Clancy’s costumes mimic the tailored details of uniforms of that time, and she dresses the women in voluminous frocks, which offer a stark contrast to the menswear and provide ample opportunity for fun business during the parlor scenes.

Hatzis makes the most of those instances, scurrying across stage on all fours, hiding under shawls and peeking behind furniture. In the confident and outspoken Beatrice, she has the best role, and she turns it expertly, expressing a range of emotions from righteous indignation to genuine grief with a sincerity that accentuates her character’s admirable complexity and intelligence. Roberts (Hatzis real life husband) does his Benedick proud, also, switching from boastful and arrogant to puzzled and love struck, all the while maintaining a sense of his character’s satirical situation.

It is not so easy to find sympathy for his friend, Claudio (an earnest, but slightly noncommittal Kevin Alan Daniels) nor for Claudio’s future father-in-law (Leonato, an overly vociferous Adrian Sparks), both of whom are too quick to accept the false story of Hero’s supposed infidelity. Heeding the historical Renaissance context and a time when Claudio’s cruelty would not have been as unpalatable as it is in today’s Southern California makes the men’s actions more understandable. Yet, Claudio’s character, with its too-facile switching from rage to remorse to remarriage, is one of the scholars’ unsettling dilemmas in the play.

That problem lies within the script. Audiences do not witness the critical scene at the window, where a masqueraded  Borachio and his lover Margaret (Ryman Sneed), dressed in her mistress Hero’s clothing, enact the infidelity solely to deceive Claudio. It is only talked about, necessitating too much imagination. Despite the script’s omission, Ralph Funicello’s ingenious set design, with an extraordinary, stage-spanning, wrought iron and glass partition, could easily accommodate that action upstage, away from the main action, yet surreptitiously visible. In fact, Daniels did take good advantage of that technique for a soldiers’ ballet-drill.

That pseudo dance is only one of the interludes used in this production. There are other dances, as well as original music by Dan Moses Schreier, that occur between scenes and dialogue. Shakespeare did include lyrics and some stage directions that justify a bit of variety in the show, but in this one they drag on too long and interrupt, rather than bolster, the mood.

Fortunately, the sub-plot featuring Constable Dogberry (hilariously exaggerated in high pitch by an agile John Cariani) and the captured felons, Conrade and Borachio, (quite capably played by Jonathan Spivey and Michael Stewart Allen) delivers the show’s most welcome diversions.

Yet, before all ends well, as befitting a comedy, there must be a revelation. Ursula, one of Hero’s attendants recites a hasty summation of the unraveling. Hero was not unfaithful, and both her lover and her father must be made aware. The last scenes wrap it all up. In a complex set of deceits and apologies, Claudio believes Hero is dead of grief. He does penance in a graveyard ritual, eerily but fittingly staged. Next, Claudio offers to marry another maid of Leonato’s household, who turns out to be Hero. Finally, Benedick asks for, and receives, Beatrice’s hand. The lovers are requited and united. The villain Don John, only talked about but unseen, will be captured and punished.

Knotty as they are, the puzzles are pieced, and Dogberry has his day.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare plays in repertory on various dates on San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre Festival Stage through September 24.

Performances are at 8 pm through September 4, after which curtain is at 7pm Tues-Weds & Sun.

Specific dates, show times and reservations: online at www.theoldglobe.org or  619-23-GLOBE

 

Spotlight

Hollywood Fringe Awarded 10K from National Endowment for the Arts

Hollywood, CA -- The Hollywood Fringe Festival is proud to announce that it has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Art Works grant of $10,000 to support the Fringe Scholarships program. This grant stems from more than $82 million approved by NEA Chairman Jane Chu to fund local arts projects and partnerships. The Art Works category supports the creation of work and presentation of both new and existing work, lifelong learning in the arts, and public engagement with the arts through 13 arts disciplines or fields.

“Hollywood Fringe began only seven years ago and has grown into a festival reaching tens of thousands of people,” says Festival Director Ben Hill. “This funding allows us to sustain that growth by supporting artists and programming that is diverse, inclusive, and relevant to the local community. We are truly honored to have been selected a recipient."

The Fringe Scholarships program strives to provide a platform for artists to exhibit the most diverse and cutting-edge points-of-view, by offering unique and underserved artists scholarships to participate in the 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Scholarships will be awarded to artists whose festival participation will increase festival attendance and participation by local Hollywood residents, increase arts participation of ethnically diverse and/or low-income artists, and enrich audience experience through the presentation of unique, underrepresented themes and/or narratives.

“The arts are all around us, enhancing our lives in ways both subtle and obvious, expected and unexpected,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Supporting projects like the one from Hollywood Fringe Festival offers more opportunities to engage in the arts every day.”

ABOUT HOLLYWOOD FRINGE

The Hollywood Fringe Festival is an annual, open-access, community-derived event celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts community. Each June during the Hollywood Fringe, the arts infiltrates the Hollywood neighborhood: Fully equipped theaters, parks, clubs, churches, restaurants and other unexpected places host hundreds of productions by local, national, and international arts companies and independent performers. The 2016 festival runs June 9th - 26th and offers over 1,400 performances in over 30 venues.

Participation in the Hollywood Fringe is completely open and uncensored. This free-for-all approach underlines the festival’s mission to be a platform for artists without the barrier of a curative body. By opening the gates to anyone with a vision, the festival is able to exhibit the most diverse and cutting-edge points-of-view the world has to offer. Additionally, by creating an environment where artists must self-produce their work, the Fringe motivates its participants to cultivate a spirit of entrepreneurialism in the arts. 

Want more information? Contact us at press@hollywoodfringe.org or by visiting the website at www.HollywoodFringe.org/press.

 
Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.