Why “Much Ado?”
Rehearsals for Bare Theatre’s production of Much Ado About Nothing began last night, and I feel like I have already travelled a long way with this play.
Planning began back in June, and we’ve had it cast for almost two months now. We have the cast measured for costumes, and we even have several outfits in hand already! Work has already begun on the video projections which I sincerely hope we will be able to use as scenic backdrops (more on that later), and we have tried several different tests for shooting digital video.
But before we get too hot and heavy on the show, I thought I would write a little bit about why I even chose Much Ado in the first place…
To put it simply, Much Ado About Nothing has something for everyone.
As a comedy, it works on several different levels. There is fantastic wordplay in the barbs exchanged between Beatrice and Benedick, which tends to appeal to those who like intellectual, verbal humor. Their story really is one of the classic love/hate relationships in literature, but unlike in The Taming of the Shrew, doesn’t contain the sticky misogynistic speeches that can be seen as sexist by a modern audience. Benedick and Beatrice seem to be on much more even ground as they battle wits, and the audience gets to sit back and enjoy it.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is The Watch, a volunteer crew of dimwitted night watchmen. These are actually great ensemble roles that often get overlooked because they have very few lines, and Shakespeare did not write stage directions. However, his company likely would have played them as clowns (more in the vein of commedia dell’arte than American circus). The lack of stage directions actually opens their scenes to all kinds of creativity – anything can happen between the lines.
There are some great jokes that the audience is in on, but certain characters are not. In the orchard scene, Beatrice tries to eavesdrop on Hero’s conversation with Ursula, unaware that they know she is listening and in fact want her to hear them so that she will warm up to (and hopefully fall in love with) Benedick. The men play a similar trick on Benedick, and both of these scenes offer some great opportunities for us to laugh at their expense!
Much Ado also has one of my personal favorite clowns in all of Shakespeare’s plays, one of the great buffoons in theatre -Dogberry, the constable. Dogberry gets the full range of comedy. He accidentally slaughters the English language by constantly misusing big words in a hopeless attempt to project a higher status when he is among the nobility, but he also gets some opportunities for some physical comedy with The Watch.
So it’s a funny play. It also happens to be pretty accessible. It moves at a good pace and is not too difficult for a modern audience to follow.
It has such great characters. It amazes me how ahead of his time Shakespeare was in his character development. Don Pedro, Benedick and Claudio are so much more than the one-dimensional heroes they sometimes get played as. All of them fall prey to deception. They have flaws. Pride is a big one for Don Pedro and Benedick (and Beatrice, for that matter). Insecurity and jealousy get the best of Claudio more than once.
There are also hints that Benedick has been something of a womanizer. Beatrice mentions a time before the play when there was something between them, but that is now gone. She insultingly jokes about Benedick constantly running off with a new friend or protege in the army, but this could also suggest that he was also carefree with women.
There is much jumping to conclusions in the play, and Leonato takes a leap when Claudio and Don Pedro accuse his daughter Hero of infidelity on her marriage day. Leonato is all too quick to disown his daughter, having been shown no real evidence. The play actually gets very dark at this point, and it this pain and anguish the characters then suffer that ultimately make the high points, the comedy and romance, stand out even more. This contrast adds a whole new dimension to the play so that despite its title, Much Ado About Nothing is very much about real people with very real desires and flaws.
With all the different levels comedy, interwoven plotlines, highs and lows, Much Ado makes for great entertainment. It is a well-loved play, deservedly so.
As we dig deeper into the text and the production, I will continue to share some thoughts, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, production notes, photos, etc. Questions are welcome, and I hope that we can share some of the enjoyment we find in this show with you!