Shakespeare like you've never seen it before


CRAIG MARAVICH AND Chris Caswell, star as Benedick and Beatrice, in the Middlebury Actors Workshop’s take on the classic “Much Ado About Nothing,” which runs at Town Hall Theater in Middlebury October 24 through 26 at 7:30 p.m. and October 27 at 2 p.m. Photo by Peter Lourie

MIDDLEBURY — Since Shakespeare’s perky rom-com “Much Ado About Nothing” opened in London 400 years ago, you might think that by now it had been staged in every conceivable way, and the good news is, you’d be wrong. Next week Middlebury Actors Workshop offers a truly original and refreshing entertainment based on the classic.

Set in New York City in 1945, Melissa Lourie’s adaptation becomes a play-within-a-play. Members of an acting troupe gather at a joyous formal dinner party to welcome two of their number home from the long war. As entertainment for themselves and their friends (you, the audience) they have decided to perform “Much Ado About Nothing” at their party, using what they have on hand. After their meal, they embark upon an ingeniously improvised and gleeful full production. The eight actors play all 19 roles, using for props only objects that happen to be on the dinner table, plus a few hats and masks, to make the play come alive.

The tale of two romances, “Much Ado” centers on the courtship of Hero and Claudio, nearly thrown awry by the jealous interference of the evil Don John, and the attempt of his princely brother, Don Pedro and friends to make Benedict and Beatrice fall in love with each other, despite their fiercely witty and combative relationship. But in a Shakespeare comedy, plot is never the main point. What matters more is the gloriously rich language, and making that language come alive to modern audiences is a rare skill. Lourie, herself a trained Shakespearean, has assembled a talented cast who have the skill to translate dense Elizabethan language into what sounds and feels like natural conversation, making the old jokes funny again. Doing this well requires loving study of every line, learning how to linger on the words that carry the most meaning and emotion.

The stage is bare, occupied only by the dinner table and the cast.

“I wanted to experiment with ‘creative limitations,’ the ingenuity that can happen when you put strict limits on what you have to use,” Lourie said. “With Shakespeare, it is always the story, characters and language.  Anything else is not necessary and often just weighs down the play. Also, I felt an elegant, black tie dinner was the perfect setting for the play because it’s really a play about rich people, with a lot of power and privilege, getting themselves into all sorts of trouble and fun in their leisure time.”

I always say this, and I’ll say it again. We are fortunate to have Middlebury Actors Workshop here in our little town, making new theater for us like it really matters. For a fresh funny look at a timeless part of our heritage, don’t miss “Much Ado About Nothing* (*at dinner).”

 

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