Monday, July 22, 2019

Much Ado About Nothing—Bag & Baggage Productions—Hillsboro, OR

       Masks, Merriment & Mischief

    This semi-classic comedy by Shakespeare, adapted for the stage by Gordon Barr and directed by Cassie Greer, is playing at their space at The Vault Theatre, 253 E. Main St., in downtown Hillsboro.  It is playing through July 28th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-345-9590.

    At one time, one could say the world of the Bard was almost like an alien environment, as far as the behavior of individuals.  But nowadays it seems it may have come full circle.  In Shakespeare’s day, in his plays, there were gender-switching of identities/genders all the time…now, we have the same.  The “fools” of society, the masses, in his day, were often the wisest of the ensemble on stage…now, we have the masses, the “we the people” of the Constitution, proving more in touch with reality than the ruling class.  They say Mr. S.’s themes are universal and Time just might prove him right!

    The plot is complicated, with essentially two families, Don Pedro’s (Tara Hershberger), with his errant brother, Don John (Julet Lindo) coming in conflict with the other prominent family in the area, headed by Leonato (Diana Trotter).  It seems their offspring and cousins have formed unions with each other (sort of a Romeo & Juliet thing, but tamer).  Benedick (Norman Wilson) has been sparring good-naturedly with Bertram (Phillip J. Berns) for years.  Meanwhile, Hero (Christian Mitchell) and Claudio (Arianna Jacques) have shyly been pacing around the May Pole for some time, too.

    But all is not as pretty as it seems.  Don John has decided to throw the proverbial wrench into the mix (motive unclear) and, with the help of some servants, gives a false impression of some indiscretions of the two young lovers, thus preventing their marriage and upsetting the normal tranquil atmosphere of these families.  But, as usual, leave it up to the “fools,” the constables, Dogberry (Mandana Khoshnevisan), Verges (Justin Charles) and Seacole (Lindo, again) to upset the apple cart (more accidental than by design) and direct them to a “happily ever after” type of conclusion with the Friar (Peter Schuyler).

    This is by no means Shakespeare’s best comedy.  It’s almost like two plays, with the first act being silly and frivolous and the second act being (except for the comic interludes by Dogberry & Co.) being fairly serious (and this act being, in my opinion, the better of the two).  But the first act, as adapted, is so outrageous that the concluding elements in Act II don’t seem to have anything in common, and so a real disconnect story-wise.  Also, I believe, that the reference to the military background of these men is important to the plot, suggesting a professional rivalry, as well as pointing out, perhaps, the adverse effects of war on soldiers.

    Also, the gender-bending is so rampant that only 3 roles play the actual gender they are in the script.  Switching genders is a common practice onstage nowadays but it is usually only in a couple of roles and it is obvious as to whether the roles are being played as a male or female.  In this case, I overheard one audience member wonder out-loud whether a certain role was a man, who just like to dress up in women’s clothes, or was the man supposed to be playing it as a woman?  Good question.  (It should be noted that in the Bard’s day, all actors onstage were male, with clean-shaven men playing the female roles as women.)  Not that clear in this adaptation.

    The actors were all very adept at playing the language.  Greer has chosen her cast well, Hershberger, Trotter and Khoshnevisan being particularly good.  And the set by Tyler Buswell, lighting by Gabriel Costales and costumes by Melissa Heller were exceptional.  (A side note, I directed Trotter, before she headed off to Berkley, as Babe in Crimes of the Heart and Cheri in Bus Stop, as well as her directing for me, The Diary of Anne Frank.  She was a fine artist then, as now, and it is gratifying to know that she is still “treading the boards!”).

    I recommend this production for all the talent involved that presented it.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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