Backstage: Much Ado About Nothing

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(Host) William Shakespeare is alive and well in Chittenden County. His work is being brought to life by the Essex Community Players, who are tackling a popular comedy.

VPR’s Neal Charnoff takes us “Backstage”.

(Charnoff) “Much Ado About Nothing” tells the story of two pairs of lovers, whose lives are interrupted by devious plotting, gossip, swordplay and a bumbling local police force.

The devoted young couple, Hero and Prince Claudio, are set against each other by the evil Don John. Meanwhile, the older and ostensibly wiser Benedick and Beatrice have vowed never to fall in love with anyone. Of course, their friends and relatives plot otherwise, and there is the hint of a past relationship between the two.

“Much Ado About Nothing” contains plenty of classic Shakespearean wordplay and double entendre.

In one of the play’s earliest scenes, Beatrice and Benedick enjoy some healthy sparring.

(Ben) “But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, yourself excepted, but I would I could find in my heart that I had in my heart that I had not a hard heart for truly, I love none.
(Bea) Ah, dear happiness to women. They else would have been troubled by a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood I am of you humor for that. I would rather hear a dog bark at a crow than to hear a man swear he loves me.
(Ben) Oh God, keep your ladyship still in that mind, so some gentlemen or other shall scape a predestinate scratched face.
(Bea) Scratching would not make it worse, and twere a face such as yours were.
(Ben) Oh well, you are a rare parrot teacher.
(Bea) A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.
(Ben) I wish my horse had the speed of your tongue and so good a continuer. But your way in God’s name, I have done.”

(Charnoff) David Delego of Essex Juntion is directing this “Much Ado About Nothing,” and he also plays Prince Claudio.

Delego says that people should not be afraid to experience Elizabethan language. He theorizes that Shakespeare might seem daunting because for many people, his plays were simply a high school reading assignment.

(Delego) “What’s key is that all of this work that Shakespeare wrote was meant to be performed live. And I truly believe that if the actors are conveying what they feel and what they mean that the audience very quickly gets used to hearing the Elizabethan English.”

(Charnoff) Rebeque Cady of Essex plays Beatrice, whom she considers to be one of Shakespeare’s few strong female characters.

Cady agrees that as long as the actors know what they are saying, the meaning of the words will be conveyed. She adds that part of Shakespeare’s genius was his invitation to play with the language.

(Cady) “Shakespeare is one of those playwrights, along with Williams and Miller, that I think you can say things in a certain way, and switch it around with different inflections or different motivations as an actor and make it sound completely different.”

(Charnoff) In this scene, Prince Claudio confesses his love for Hero to his best friend, Benidick.

(Claudio) Benedick didst thou note the daughter of Leonato?
(Ben) I noted her not, but I looked on her.
(Claudio) Is she not a modest young lady?
(Ben) Do you question me as an honest man should do for my simple true judgement? Or would you have me speak as is my custom as to being a professed tyrant to their sex?
(Claudio) No, I pray thee speak in sober judgements.
(Ben) Why, if faith, me she thinks she’s too low for a for high praise and too little for a great praise. Only this commendation I can afford her, that were she other than she is, she were unhandsome, and being no other than as she is, I do not like her.”

(Charnoff) This production of “Much Ado About Nothing” is set in what the cast refers to as a “vague Renaissance period”, with a set and costumes more suggestive than specific.

Scott Renzoni of Burlington plays Benedick. He says that some directors like to adapt Shakespeare to modern times. For example, the current Broadway revival of “Julius Caesar” features dark-suited Romans and metal detectors.

But Renzoni says that as long as one is faithful to the language, the setting is really no more than window dressing.

(Renzoni) “Shakespeare himself, his own company, wouldn’t have used costumes, they performed in their own everyday clothes, in clothes that they would get from the nobility, and that’s about as fancy as they’d get. They wouldn’t be making togas for Julius Caesar or things like that. They would dress in what they had around. So many of the themes are so basic, so essentially human that couched in any kind of language or dressed in any kind of costume, they’re relevant to us today, and they mean something to us today.”

(Charnoff) Renzoni adds that getting any play off the ground is never an easy task, but that the spirit of Shakespeare has helped the Essex Community players overcome any and all obstacles.

(Renzoni) Everyone has done 105% in helping to get us over some of the difficulties we faced along the way. And that is the magic of community theater, because no one’s getting paid. But everyone still does their utmost to get things on the road, get things going, and to really let us soar. And I think we have achieved that.

(Charnoff) The Essex Community Players have been a volunteer organization since 1958, and continue to offer three productions a year.

For VPR Backstage, I’m Neal Charnoff.

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