And the Shakespearean word of the day is:
Let’s spell it out for you as Woodward Shakespeare Festival opens “Much Ado About Nothing,” its second show of the season:
B is for Benedick and Beatrice
They’re one of the most famous couples in a Shakespeare comedy. These bickering and endearing characters set the tone for “Much Ado” and give it much of its sparkle when they’re tricked into confessing their love for each other. Director Summer Session, helming her first production for the company, cast Quincy Maxwell as Benedick and Casey Ballard as Beatrice.
“I looked for actors who were older or could play more mature roles,” Session says. “However I also needed actors who were willing to play — and try all the crazy things I threw at them. The role of Benedick is especially tough because he kind of carries the show. His character arc is a tough one to decipher because he begins as one Benedick and ends the play as a completely changed man.”
As for all that arguing between Benedick and Beatrice: There’s something age-old funny about watching a couple in a comedy bicker when you know there’s also an attraction there.
“I think this plot device is popular because it’s a couple type we see in our everyday lives,” Session says. “We are introduced to this concept of love early on in our lives, when we are told at a young age that a specific someone is picking on us because that person likes us. I think that idea stays somewhere in our thoughts as we grow older.”
E is for Entice
That’s “entice” as in — “Hey, I’m a Fresno State theater graduate, and you’re a Fresno State theater graduate or current student, and would you please consider auditioning for my outdoor Shakespeare play that will run in August in Fresno?”
That’s kind of how it went. And Session, who reached out to Fresno State and Fresno City students, was a good persuader. It paid off. A good chunk of the cast consists of Fresno State/Fresno City acting names, including Maxwell, James Anderson, Suzanne Grażyna, Andrew Trevino, Rodolfo Robles Cruz, Alexis Elisa Macedo, Hannah Berry, Jacob Gonzalez, Daniel Serrano, Cha Yang, Jose Anthony Estorga, Andrew Pereida, Joshua Slack, Marlena Eckel, John Rivas and Isaiah Strattman. (Whew. Did I miss anybody?) For Woodward Shakes, this is a major influx of young talent.
A is for Acting
As in the Juilliard School for Drama acting audition, which assistant director Thuy Duong, a recent Fresno State theater graduate, obviously killed. She’s going to the famed New York institution in just a few weeks. How cool is that?
“I couldn’t be prouder of her,” Session says. “I have worked with Thuy before on other productions and every time her hard work and determination blows me away. I couldn’t think of another person more suited or more deserving of this opportunity. I am happy to have her on this production team with me before she takes off. However when she leaves I’ll not only be losing a strong member of my team but my best friend.”
C is for California
As in Long Beach, Calif., in the 1940s. That’s where Session decided to set the production. She wanted something close to home, that would suit the play and be fun to see on the stage, she says.
H is for Hot
Yes, it’s blistering hot these days. As in it’s-Fresno-in-the-summer-and-we’re-in-a-never-ending-string-of-100-plus-degrees hot. So what was Session’s idea?
You’ve probably guessed by now.
“I decided to bring the beach to Fresno,” she says.
Which means lots of summer attire. Forget about those Shakespeare productions where everyone has to wear thick, heavy, wool costumes that probably smelled like the castle gym at the end of each run. Now a lot more of the cast gets to skimp down. Think shorts, swimsuits and definitely no tinselled satin or hoop skirts.
There’s even a “Muscle Beach” scene, which is one of Session’s favorites: Benedick overhears the others say that Beatrice Loves him. What adds to the fun is the fact that as this is going on, Claudio (Anderson) becomes jealous of the strength of Don Pedro (Trevino), the prince. Claudio tries to lift heavier weights, until embarrassingly realizing he can’t keep up with him.
“I am excited for this production and hope that audience members can come out and have a fun time,” Session says. Beach blankets are optional.
Now if we could only get a bit of coastal fog to visit us, too, and seal the deal.
“Much Ado About Nothing,” a Woodward Shakespeare Festival production. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Aug. 25. Tickets are free; a $5 parking entrance fee applies.
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