by William Shakespeare
Messina's soldiers have returned from victory abroad to discover new battles at home! Sworn bachelor Benedick and his fiery counterpart Beatrice engage in a war of words and wit while their friends watch their attraction grow stronger with every skirmish. Meanwhile, Claudio plans to wed his true love Hero, unaware of the villainous Don John's desire to foil his plans. Will these battles end in victory? Our exciting production has the answers – and a whole lot more – featuring the same actors who play these parts in Elizabeth Rex. Our investigation of Shakespeare's original practices continues with a hilarious all-male production of MUCH ADO.
Matt Daniels - Benedick
Jonathan West - Director
Don Pedro, a nobleman of Aragon, and his entourage arrive at the estate of Leonato, the Governor of Messina, following a long period away at war. With Don Pedro are Claudio, Benedick, and Don John, the Duke's illegitimate brother. Before the war, Claudio had been attracted to Hero, Leonato's daughter, and Benedick had been engaged in, at least, a battle of wits with Beatrice, Hero's cousin.
Leonato arranges for Claudio and Hero to be engaged, and to celebrate the end of the war and their return home, he throws an elaborate masquerade party. The high spirits are too much for Don John, and he concocts a plan to convince Claudio that Hero is unfaithful to him. He arranges for Claudio to talk with the Duke at night, near Hero's window. Overseeing a female figure talking with Don John's soldier Brachio in Hero's room, Claudio is convinced that Hero has been unfaithful, although the figure that he sees is actually Hero's maid Margaret.
In the meantime, Benedick and Beatrice have continued their uneasy banter, seeming to easily annoy each other and always wanting to have the last word. Hero and Don Pedro realize that these two would be a perfect couple, and they hatch a plan to have Benedick and Beatrice overhear each other talking to someone about the other. In this way, they begin to realize that they are in love with each other.
Claudio publicly denounces Hero at their wedding, shaming her in front of the assembled guests, shocking her to such a degree that she faints, and leaving the others to believe that she is in fact dead. After Claudio and others have withdrawn, Hero begins to recover. Leonato, Benedick, Beatrice, and the priest decide that they will let everyone continue to believe that she has died, which will give them time to prove that Claudio has wronged her, and that she has not been unfaithful to him.
The village constable, Dogberry, takes Borachio and Conrade into custody, hearing them bragging about a plan to deceive the Duke and Claudio. Dogberry and his assistants eventually explain the plot, revealing Don John's part in it. As a reconciliation, Leonato asks Claudio to marry a niece that is a stranger to him, since he has slandered Hero and caused her death. Leonato agrees, but at the wedding, when the bride is unveiled, she is in fact Hero. In their celebration, Benedick and Beatrice decide to also be married. Don John is apprehended while trying to escape Messina, and revelry ensues once again.
Pantagraph - Boys will be girls in fest's true-to-period 'Much Ado' by Marcia Weiss- The 37th Illinois Shakespeare Festival opens this week with an all-male production of "Much Ado About Nothing." Just this year, "Twelfth Night" garnered seven Tony nominations for the Globe's production, also with an all-male cast.... See more
Written between 1598 and 1599, a few years before Antony and Cleopatra and while Shakespeare's troupe was still known as The Lord Chamberlain's Men, Much Ado About Nothing has become one of the Bard's best-loved comedies. Its easily recognizable heroes and villains, its engaging and witty dialogue, and its lovable and laughable characters have made it an audience favorite both on stage and in film.
Modern audiences love the strong-willed Beatrice, who stands up to Benedick's ego and rails against the injustice done to Hero.
Beatrice's monologue has been interpreted throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as a gesture to her lack of agency, commenting as it does on her inability to defend Hero's honor and the injustice of being so powerless. Seen this way, their author would be a man before his time, a proto-feminist who not only recognizes women's immobility but sympathizes with them.
But what if a male actor rather than a female actor delivers that line? How do Shakespeare's plays make meaning when we return to the original practice of casting all roles with male actors? (Women wouldn't appear regularly on English stages until the return of Charles II in 1660.)
In the case of Beatrice's famous mono-logue, do the words become more visibly ironic? Could it be, simply, a line whose primary purpose may be to evoke laughter, not a proto-feminist commentary at all?
In many of his plays, Shakespeare sends up the fact that his women are played by men, overstating the obvious for comedic effect. At other times, he reflects on gender limits and reversals in dramatic situations, as he does in Antony and Cleopatra's relationship, also on stage here this summer. In what is likely the most exaggerated example of gender play in English Renaissance drama, As You Like It's Rosalind disguises herself as a man to escape persecution, and then, already disguised, teaches her beloved (who does not recognize her) how to woo her, by treating her as the woman he loves: A male actor playing a woman who disguises herself as a man and then plays a woman.
This season, the Festival is exploring Original Practices, a movement that seeks to recreate the performance practices of Elizabethan England. All-male companies were one part of that original historical milieu, and many companies in the U.S. and England are experimenting more with all-male productions. Most notably, perhaps, The Shakespeare's Globe all-male productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III landed on Broadway this season for a limited run, after playing to sold-out houses in London. Twelfth Night wracked up an impressive seven Tony nominations: Best Revival, Best Direction, Best Costume Design (won by Jenny Tiramani), Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play (Samuel Barnett as Viola), and three nominations for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play – Mark Rylance as Olivia (who won), Stephen Fry as Malvolio, and Paul Chahidi as Maria. Notice that of the actor nominations, three of the four actors nominated were playing women.
The Tony committee – and audiences and critics – loved the all-male Twelfth Night. Our modern sensibilities might be more attuned to cross-dressing in comedy than in tragedy. Ben Brantley for The New York Times wrote, "I can't remember being so ridiculously happy for the entirety of a Shakespeare performance since – let me think – August 2002." That reference of course is to the Globe's last production of Twelfth Night, with Mark Rylance in the role of Viola. Brantley goes on to write, perhaps not terribly originally, that this production "makes you think, 'This is how Shakespeare was meant to be done.'" Yes, it most certainly was.
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$31 Adult Gold
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