cwACT’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ will really be something
For the first time, Central Wisconsin Area Community Theater (cwACT) will tackle one of the greats – William Shakespeare – in his popular romantic comedy, “Much Ado About Nothing.”
“The desire to produce Shakespeare is strong in every theater, even in community theater groups,” said director Susan Edgren. “I think it’s important for an amateur organization, in order to grow in popularity and performance quality, to take on some Shakespeare, at least occasionally.
“When a community has a large source pool of actors who want to stretch themselves as artists and an audience demographic that includes a variety of professionals and academics, the desire to tackle Shakespeare becomes a logical choice,” she said.
“And it’s healthy for their audience to have the opportunity to see a Shakespeare production close to home, since many people do not have an opportunity to travel elsewhere or pay expensive prices to see it,” Edgren said.
The show will be performed over two weekends, at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 3, 4, 10 and 11, and at 2 p.m. Feb. 5 and 12, at Sentry’s [email protected], 1800 North Point Drive, Stevens Point. Tickets are $12 and available in advance or at the door. For ticket information, call the cwACT Box Office at 715-498-2339 or choose seats online at www.cwtickets.com. The play is recommended for those ages 13 and older.
“Much Ado About Nothing” is generally considered one of Shakespeare’s best comedies because it combines elements of mistaken identities, love, humor, reflections on honor, shame and politics. Written in 1598 or 1599, it was published first in 1623.
In it, Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into confessing their love for each other, and Claudio is tricked into rejecting Hero at the altar on the erroneous belief that she has been unfaithful.
At the end, Benedick and Beatrice join forces to set things right, and the others join in a dance celebrating the marriages of the two couples.
CwACT has added its own twist to the line, setting it in the roaring ’20s.
“The roaring ’20s was an era of hedonism, bootleg alcohol, gang fighting for territory and jazz,” Edgren said. “All of these elements fit within the main story of Much Ado quite easily.
“Because it is a comedy, it is easily set in a variety of time periods. You may have seen this play more than once, but I am sure that each production you have seen has been in a different time period, making each production a new experience,” she said.
In her description of this version, Edgren explained that historically, the “Don” in characters Don Pedro and Don John stood for Spanish titles. In her version, the “Don” denotes an Italian title for the head of a “family” business (a godfather, if you will, she said).
The brothers, Pedro and John, have been fighting over control of a profitable bootleg business in America. Signoir Leonato, mayor of Messina where the play takes place and successful vintner, is Don Pedro’s main supplier of wine to America.
The production is loaded with music from the jazz age, “which best creates an atmosphere of joy, fun and romance,” she said.
As in all productions, there are challenges, not the least of which for this one is the Shakespearean language, though because this play is not written in verse, it is a bit easier to work with. The play itself – its notoriety – is somewhat of a challenge as well.
“The biggest challenge for me is to follow in the footsteps of greats like Kenneth Branagh and David Tennant,” said Steve Martin, who plays Benedick. “I’m trying not to watch those productions because I don’t want to simply copy what they’ve done.
“I’d like to make it my own so there aren’t too many comparisons,” he said. “I have found a lot of Benedick in me – goofy, playful and fun – so I’m trying to bring that out.”
Shakespeare’s language also is at the top of the list of demanding parts of the production. He used a vast vocabulary to express his characters’ thoughts, stating identical ideas in varying terms to fit his iambic meter and imagery.
“The use of simple articles of speech as well as the order of words within phrases vary for the sake of poetry, but are foreign to modern ears,” Edgren said. “It demands a great deal of basic rote memorization from actors. I have a brilliant cast that is working exceptionally hard to tackle these hurdles, and I am very pleased with their progress so far.”
Harnessing the language and conveying it accurately and understandable to the audience, while daunting, is one of the pluses for Martin.
“I have wanted to speak this language for a long time,” he said. “It is such great fun.
“And there’s a lot of spitting. It’s not good Shakespeare if the cast isn’t drenched by the end,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s a great challenge for us, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s such a beautiful language.
“My hope is that we bring a sense of understanding to a complex language,” he said. “Shakespeare plays are not the easiest to grasp. I think our cast is very solid and will do a great job.”
“I encourage everyone in this community to come to our ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’” Edgren said. “Come ye, one and all, and let there be dancing. Play up, pipers.”
Cast members include Mike Edgren as Leonato, Helena Collins-Price as Beatrice, Johanna Holzhaeuser as Hero, Steve Martin as Benedick, Eric Finn as Don Pedro, Joe Battaglia as Don John, David Edrgren as Claudio, Lucas Molski as Borachio, Travis Kielpikowski as Conrade, John Omernick as Balthasar, Amber Zietlow Michur as Margaret, Katie Eyers as Ursula, Don Matthews as Hugh Oatcake, Nick Nuber as Dogberry, Monica Davisson as Verges, Beverly Ross as Seacole, Emmalie Hambrock as Flower Girl/Nightwatch 1, Katie Minch as Sexton and Steve Ter Maat as Father Francis.