If you were asleep or still a little stoned from your lunch break during the entirety of sophomore year English class, you might remember Much Ado About Nothing as a Shakespeare comedy that ends in a wedding. But they all end in weddings so that's not saying much. It goes something like, he loves her, he loves her not, he's him, no he's someone else, she's dead, she's alive and now they're all married.
The third annual Shakespeare in the Park will consist of three outdoor performances of this favorite shaggy dog comedy in the original Elizabethan setting by the Portland Northwest Classical Theatre Company—and, yes, in much greater detail and finesse than the above Cliff notes description.
Here's a more detailed refresher (English nerd powers, activate!). Much Ado's main plot follows the misadventures two couples: Claudio and Hero, the passionate young lovers; and, two of Shakespeare's wittiest characters, Beatrice and Benedict—the Elizabethan Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet—who swear their searing hatered for each other, only to fall in love.
The road to the wedding isn't smooth for the couples, filled with trickery at puppet stings of the well-intentioned matchmaker Don Pedro and the purely evil Don John (literally called "The Bastard" in the script, played by mustached Keanu Reeves in the Kenneth Branagh film adaptation).
The play attests that it just takes a little white lie to turn enemies into lovers, and a few insults at the altar to make a sweet sensitive virgin fake her own death.
But it's more than bogus funerals and one-liners from bumbling detectives. The play achieves a level of depth beyond other of Shakespeare's kiddie-pool shallow comedies (ahem, we're looking at you, Comedy of Errors). Much Ado takes on profound themes of honor, shame and court politics with some of the sharpest dialogue in the folio.
Grant Turner, director, producer and actor—playing the role of the insufferable yet hilarious Dogberry—explained that the antithesis of the play creates Shakespeare's signature balance in the script.
"What do you do in your time of peace as a soldier of war? Don John decides to cause chaos. Don Pedro decides to bring people together," explained Turner. "The play hinges on these opposites."
Turner is no stranger to Shakespeare. He's been acting and directing the Bard's work for the last 20 years and has performed 30 of Shakespeare's 37 plays in his career. The Northwest Classical Theatre Company, for which Turner was the founding artistic director, has assembled a cast of Portland-based actors, many of whom are returning for their second or third appearances on the Bend stage.
"We have a Bend company so that when we return, the guests can anticipate seeing their favorite actors," said Turner.
Last year's production of Romeo and Juliet was a stunning success ending with the overwhelming darkness of the final act just as the sun set at Drake Park, an effect that rivaled Leonardo DiCaprio's slow sinking death at the end of Titanic—heavy stuff.
Turner said that planning for the logistics of an outdoor performance is a challenge but that performing in Drake Park is always worth the trouble.
"You have to make sure Juliet dies and we can still see her before it gets dark. There are the logistics of how impactful a sword fight can be on a huge expansive stage. There is a lot of science involved in making the tragedies work," said Turner, who went on to explain that when producing a comedy like Much Ado, logistics come second to trusting Shakespeare's timeless writing. "With tragedy to make a point, you've got to gild the lily—to use a Shakespearean term," Turner said with a laugh. "With comedy you trust the playwright, when Dogberry is trying so hard to thank Leonato and is just saying one wrong thing after another—that scene has killed for 500 years and will for 500 more."
Shakespeare in the Park
Much Ado About Nothing | Aug. 23-24 | 7 pm | Drake Park
Aug. 25 | 7 pm | SHARC, 57250 Overlook Rd. Sunriver