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Shakespeare does spring break

6/10/2015

Allow me a nerd moment. Back in Shakespeare’s day, we nerds know, “nothing” had a double meaning. Pronounced “not-ting,” it referred either to nothing, as it does today, or to gossip. So the fun starts in the very title of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” It’s more than a cliché.

“Much Ado About Nothing.” Repertory Theater of Iowa. Salisbury House, Tonawanda Drive. Thursday – Sunday, June 11-14, 7:30 p.m.

“Much Ado About Nothing.” Repertory Theater of Iowa. Salisbury House, Tonawanda
Drive. Thursday – Sunday, June 11-14, 7:30 p.m.

“Midsummer’s Night” has fairy magic and “Twelfth Night” gender bending, but what drives this comedy is down to earth. It’s about idle chatter among the idle rich. The latest movie version, a hit in 2013, was filmed in the director’s Los Angeles, California, mansion — not much different from Salisbury House, actually. When I visited a rehearsal for the upcoming production, I found cast and crew in great spirits, enjoying both the garden setting and a story that, as Director Brad Dell put it, “has kind of a spring break feeling.”

Dell is a bit of a nerd himself, a professor at Iowa State University, but he knows “Much Ado” is no scholarly exercise. Rather, he wants to “emphasize the fun these people try to have in trying times.” The background of the drama, he points out, is a war.

Actor Mark Gruber concurs, claiming that to play Benedick, the leading man, he has to become “someone who’s always thought of himself as a warrior first.” A Guy’s Guy, in short, he’s a confirmed bachelor — until he falls prey to gossip. A game of innuendo, set in motion by Benedick’s commander, rekindles his affection for an old flame, Beatrice.

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“The couple has a nuance that’s special in Shakespeare. They’ve got layers of feeling between them,” says Gruber.

Says Kerry Skram, who handles Beatrice: “She holds her own with Benedick. She’s an equal, trading insults. You’ve got to admire that about her.”

Both actors play the character, not the comedy.

“The sweet spot I go for is getting across his journey,” says Gruber. “The jokes take care of themselves.”

“The barbs, the funny lines, these unfold naturally,” adds Skram. “Of course it’s all in the language, this timing that’s natural to Beatrice.”

Dell, too, calls attention to the journey. He keeps everyone moving, starting with the soldiers’ return, charging up the garden pathway. Tensions are heightened by a back-and-forth between the main set, down at ground level, and the broad Salisbury balcony. In rehearsal, Alissa Schetter-Siedschlaw actually used a stopwatch to time the balcony trip.

“Fifty seconds!” she announced.

At that, Dell and others huddled, making small changes.

“It’s exciting,” he tells me later. “It’s an outdoor stage space, but it’s also a little frightening.”

What matters is the audience always knows where to look. There’s always another old hurt that’s erupted, or that’s getting repaired, he says.

On top of the that, the whole “big, busy play,” as Dell puts it, has to face the uncertainty of working outdoors, from possible sound system problems to the threat of bad weather.

But Skram isn’t worried.

“Knock on wood,” she says, “The Salisbury shows have never been rained out.”

Overheard in the Lobby: In Ames, “Shrek” starts June 12. CV

 

John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

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