I’ve had a most unexpected journey working on this production of Much Ado About Nothing. After years of working on many of Shakespeare’s plays with festivals and theatres around the country, I discovered, much to my surprise, a new Shakespeare that awoke my imagination. It started almost a year ago when Karen Azenberg asked if I wanted to direct Much Ado (YES!) and if I had an idea of how I wanted to do it. (Uhhhhhh…
Now, directing a Shakespeare play is sort of like being a kid in a candy shop: there are thousands of flavors and scents and colors from which to choose, but only so many that will fill your paper bag and cost less than a quarter. One of the first questions that needs to be answered when entering the production process is, “In what period do we set the play?” All periods are options, and all physical production elements hang off that answer—what the costumes are, what the scenery will look like, how the music will sound, etc. In order to get to the answers to those questions, I began my journey inside this particular candy store by asking myself, “WHY did Shakespeare write this play?” Not being able to call him on the phone and ask him—his agent never returned my calls—I endeavored to provide an answer that would shape the production and find its meaning.
The themes of the play are vast: chivalry, honor, chastity, rumor. But mostly, the play addresses the costs and gains of love. At its heart lies a love story borrowed from Italian romance—the Hero/Claudio story line—and a love story invented by Shakespeare—the Benedick/Beatrice story. The former is a story of the extremes of emotion and the latter is a story of the control and denial of emotion. Stories of young, impulsive, passionate love affairs are territories well charted in Shakespeare’s plays and they provide as much caution as they do comedy and emotion. Stories of older characters falling in love, especially when it means giving up their independence, isolation and—or so they think—their power, are also prevalent, and for me, a fascinating angle on the characters in Much Ado.
At the beginning of the play Beatrice and Benedick both fear losing their strength, identity and honor by falling in love with another person. They would rather remain in their respective “roles” than grow into fully realized human beings capable of all emotions. The canon is full of great female characters who, in some version, pretend to be other than what they are in order to have any power or independence in patriarchal power structures. Could these characters be a metaphor—or, better—a caution for Shakespeare’s Queen Elizabeth? Could somebody be trying to send her a message that she can, in fact, be a lover and feminine yet still remain a powerful and independent monarch? It certainly helps explain why this message is repeated so often. Who was Shakespeare that he was so concerned—nay, obsessed—with this idea? No other dramatist of the period was writing these kinds of characters. Could he have been a court insider? A suitor to the queen? If so, there was a code of chivalry and court protocol that prevented an open courtship. In pursuit of the answer to why this play was written, I inadvertently stumbled on the controversial subject of Shakespeare’s authorship. I now leave this experience no longer convinced that William Shakespeare was indeed the author of these plays. Rather that he was somebody who was using these plays—and the theatre—for a much more personal and political agenda
However, in the end, I don’t suppose it much matters who wrote them; the plays exist, they are brilliant and they are unparalleled in quantity and quality—and quality of the quantity. The question of authorship doesn’t really affect what you’ll see onstage—we’ve created our own world and universe here. But the fact is, the opportunity to live in the worlds of “Shakespeare’s” plays, through living through their words, is the greatest gift of this profession and one of the reasons I chose to be a director. I hope that the joy we’ve had in creating our world for Much Ado leaps off the stage and into your imaginations so that you enjoy your time in our candy store, whoever made the candy.
This production is sponsored by:
Richard K. and Shirley S. Hemingway Foundation