Jessica Plotin, left, as Margaret, Angie Light as Beatrice, Annalee Scott as Hero, and Chuck Chastain as Friar Francis.
Snapping at the heels of Joss Whedon’s cinematic spin on the Bard’s comely comedy, Jack Messenger, Lois Bourgon, and the Manhattan Beach Community Church Theatre, are rolling out their version of “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Whedon’s film, which opened last week at the ArcLight in El Segundo, is literally a home movie with a batch of good friends, filmed in black and white, in modern dress, and over 12 days at the director’s home just up the coast.
“I like to think that he and I think alike,” Messenger says, as we sat in the conference room of a famous local newspaper, “because in my production I have used all the friends that I have known in the acting circles of Los Angeles over the course of the last five years. From that standpoint,” he continues, “we are opening concurrently – only you can see us in 3D and in full color and in the traditional dress which is the way that most people have come to envision their viewing of Shakespeare.”
For those readers who don’t know exactly when that was – lemme guess, 1920s? – it was in an era called The Elizabethan Age, and it took place somewhat prior to The Jimmy Carter Age when your parents were really, really young.
Messenger says he hopes we’ll laugh (at the unfolding story, not at the production), and he’s also hoping that the play will conjure up memories of when we were teenaged boys and girls.
“We are stressing both the elements of comedy and romance,” he explains. “There are two romances in this play that, if Shakespeare had been alive today, he would probably have set in a high school.”
Yes, imagine if he’d written “Grease,” with ye olde Rydell High, class of 1604.
“‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is a late high school romance, if you will,” Messenger says, “that when you watch it you think, ‘Oh god, I remember behaving like that when I was in high school.’ Even Shakespeare knew back then maybe what high school life was going to be like today. Of course, he had a very strong understanding of human nature so that probably helped too. He also had a wicked sense of humor.”
The play follows two couples – Hero (a girl) and Claudio, who fall in love quickly, and Beatrice and Benedick, who do not (and therefore are more interesting).
“One romance involves a lot of deception due to the idea that this particular war hero (Claudio) hears scuttlebutt about his betrothed having an affair. Meanwhile the other couple has had a history but they’re both putting up their barriers to each other by arguing through what at most is a real burning love that they have for each other.
“So,” Messenger adds, “two different types of romances that we can all relate to as contemporary people in the 21st century. The play is set in the year 1598 in Messina, Sicily.”
The bar(d) is set
I have high standards for Shakespeare, the reporter says.
“Okay, I’m glad you have that,” Messenger replies. “I have those same high standards and I want those high standards to be achieved. We’re hoping to get there.
“There are people in our cast (of 18) who’ve gone to school for Shakespeare, [and] people in our cast who’ve never, ever done Shakespeare in their lives, who are busily right now parsing the script.”
I’m not sure if this is letting the cat out of the elevator, but Messenger reveals that he has cast a woman in the role of Dogberry, traditionally billed as the Master Constable in Messina.
Why this particular Shakespeare play when you could have selected any other?
“I chose this one because I knew the film was coming up,” Messenger says. “I chose this one because it’s accessible to neophyte audiences.” Translation: “It’s accessible to those people who don’t see a lot of Shakespeare.”
Messenger elaborates: “A lot of Shakespeare tragedies are written primarily in poetry, with a minimal amount of prose. Some of his comedies have equal elements of prose versus poetry. This particular play has more prose than poetry – therefore it’s more accessible. It’s proven to be one of his most popular comedies over the years because it’s generally pretty fun.”
Which isn’t to say that the Bard can’t withstand a little trimming – in this case, Messenger has cut about a quarter of it, presumably judicious cuts and not like, say, the entire beginning or ending.
The production about to go up should look and feel reasonably authentic:
“We’re excited about the fact that we’re getting our costumes from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.”
Messenger concludes by suggesting that his interviewer take in Whedon’s film so he can contrast and compare both works:
“The reviews on it have been on the whole very, very good,” he says of the movie. “A completely different take on what we’re doing but the one thing that we have in common is that he trusts his friends and he knows that Shakespeare is a collaboration.
“The potential for good Shakespeare is collaboration because you trust your actors and you come to arrive at certain things together: It’s not a directorial, dictatorial environment at all. Shakespeare was always meant to be performed; it was never really meant to be read.”
And now let us step back through the ages and take our seats.
Much Ado About Nothing opens tomorrow (Friday) at the Manhattan Beach Community Church Theatre, 303 S. Peck Ave., Manhattan Beach. Also Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 2 p.m., with the same schedule, Friday through Sunday, on June 28, 29, and 30. Tickets, $20. Call Nancye Ellington, (310) 379-3139, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. ER