Friday, February 21, 2014

Much Ado About Nothing—Battle Ground Drama Club—Battle Ground, WA



“The Play’s the Thing…”

This Shakespearean comedy is directed by Stephan “Cash” Henry at the Battle Ground High School.  It runs through March 1st.  For more information, e-mail henry.stephan@battlegroundps.orgThe Bard’s comedies all have the same recipe:  Strong female characters, usually masked or mistaken identities at some point, farcical character(s) to broaden the wit, striving to find a husband/wife, and complications with the parents.  And, of course, the marriageable ladies must be maidens (virgins) but not necessarily the fellows.  Going to war or having been a soldier is a plus for the men.  And having wealth and a spotless family heritage is also desirable.

So we find the Prince, Don Pedro (Cody Bronkhorst), coming back from the wars with two of his most eligible bachelors, Benedick (Tullee Stanford) and Claudio (Brendan Groat), looking for mates.  They find them in Beatrice (Sarah Russell), daughter of Antonio (Clifford Armstrong), and the Governor, Leonato (Dalton Hidden), in his daughter, Hero (Desiree Roy).  Hero is easily won over by Claudio, but Beatrice is a kissing cousin to Kate, the shrew, from another of the Bards’ works.  And he, Benedick, is equally stubborn and pig-headed.
So family and friends, Ursula (Bailey Baxter) and Margaret (Kira Wirt), servants to the ladies, conspire to get these two lovers together.  Meanwhile, back at the manor, we have a disgruntled Don John (Jake Gailey), brother to Don Pedro, desiring Hero for himself.  So he, and his mates, Borachio (Jeremy Syron) and Conrade (Cade Hansen), devise a method of smearing Hero’s reputation, giving the inference that she is not a maiden.

When Claudio is informed of this event, he vows to shame her on their wedding day.  He does and she swoons, presumed dead.  Don John skips town to let his cohorts face the music.  Dogberry (Sky Ring), the constable, has captured Don John’s underlings and they confess to concocting the whole plot.  Claudio is ashamed for his actions but, this being a comedy, he is forgiven and reunited with Hero, who is very much alive.  A wedding ensues and Benedick and Beatrice also join matrimonial hands.

The amazing and wonderful thing about this show, is that it is performed by high school students, in a make-shift stage in the school’s cavernous cafeteria, after school hours, with minimum budget for lighting, set, props and costumes and, considering these limitations, it is an admirable production!  The masks are quite effective and the set design, by Sundance Wilson Henry, is sparse but serviceable, as are the costumes.

Much of that success is due to the director, Henry.  It would be no small feat to guide any actor through the Shakespearean dialogue, but to have such young talent, eagerly attempting to grasp such difficult material, is a truly an applaudable endeavor.  May he live long and prosper!

Russell again shines as Beatrice, as she did as Mayella in their …Mockingbird.  She is probably the most precise in her use of the dialogue, and her rendition of the character is spot on.  She has a career in this field if she wants it.  Stanford, as Benedick, is also good and, for the most part, masters the speech.  Groat as Claudio shows promise, as he glides through his part.  And Roy is lovely and convincing as the naïve, Hero.

But the one to watch in this production is Ring, as Dogberry, the irascible but dim-witted, constable.  She is an amazing find!  Her speech, movements, timing, sight gags are true comic genius.  She pretty much dominates the scenes she’s in.  Again, a solid career in this field, I predict.  All the rest of the cast do good work and there is not really a weak link in such difficult prose and poetry.  Bravo.

One warning, being such a cavernous space, and with language unfamiliar to most audience members, it is important to be understood.  This space is not conducive to lines that are yelled, or voices rendered at a high pitch.  Work on slowing the cadence a bit and, especially, enunciation.

I recommend this production.  Note that it is produced by the High School’s Drama Club, so any monetary or backstage help would be, I’m sure, greatly appreciated.  They deserve your support!  If you do go to see it, tell them Dennis send you.