Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”: Smart Comedy in Little Italy of the 1920s | Vermont art

Much Ado About Nothing is one of William Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, and not just because of its easy accessibility to modern audiences.

“It combines this really heady, clever war of jokes between the sexes with the darker theme of suspicion and betrayal,” explains Joanne Greenberg, who is directing the upcoming Stowe Theater Guild production.

“It is a deep satisfaction for the audience to watch this clever sparring couple who are led to admit that all of these verbal tournaments are the attraction of equal minds,” she said. “It’s really satisfying to watch them drop this and fall in love.”

Stowe Theater Guild, the area’s long-running community theater, is presenting “Much Ado About Nothing” from October 7-23 at the Stowe Town Hall Theater, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm.

At the end of the war, love is in the air when Commander Don Pedro and his company visit Leonato’s home in Messina, Italy. But Leonato’s soldier friends make a lot of noise – hilarious and serious – in the form of a fight between the sexes.

Beatrice and Benedick wage a “merry war of wits” and skillfully argue to hide their mutual affection. Claudio and Hero openly swear theirs, only to be undone by the evil Don John and his allies. Can the team of clumsy but good-hearted constables bring harmony to this warlike household?

Greenberg, a freelance theater professional from Montpelier, moved the action to New York City’s Little Italy in the 1920s.

“I wanted to make it more accessible to the contemporary audience by not having that distant Elizabethan look,” she said. “I also wanted to put it in an immigration context where the traditional family values ​​of the Shakespeare original exist and make sense.”

In an immigrant environment like Little Italy, there was generational conflict over issues of family honor, gender roles, and marriage conventions.

“It all still fits into the 1920s when you’re in a place like Little Italy,” said Greenberg. “Men and women and children can argue about traditional roles in a changing world. That becomes something recognizable for the contemporary audience.

“It also has great styles and music.”

In addition to the easy accessibility of the comedy, it is three-quarter prose – in iambic pentameter.

“The common wisdom is that poetry is for the upper class and prose is for the lower class,” Greenberg said. “It’s not that simple in this piece. The prose works for wit, thought, and logic, and there is a lot of that in this piece. That is why Beatrice and Benedick also speak to each other in prose. “

Poetry is used for the formal scenes, including the two wedding ceremonies.

“The only self-talk in poetry is Beatrice’s, and that’s supposedly because hers is more emotional,” Greenberg said. “Then Benedick’s long ‘I’m not going to die a bachelor after all’, where he tries to convince himself with logic that he is not inconsistent,” it says in prose.

“I think for a lot of people it is a selling point that the prose is more accessible,” she said.

The 14-strong cast is a mix of professional and seasoned community actors. Preparations for the play actually began before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So it was a challenge,” said Greenberg. “People committed to the original and couldn’t stay for the postponement; People came on board recently. So it wasn’t a single audition that got the 14 people online. Some people have been in their roles since February 2020 and are literally thinking about it, “she said.

The actual rehearsals began in May.

“I have a really good cast,” said Greenberg.

To make the large cast possible, the physical staging uses different levels.

“The main house has a terrace, a kind of elegant staircase,” says Greenberg. “There are bodegas on the sides because it’s Little Italy in the 1920s. That offers other leeway, and there is a boost, so a lot of scenic variety and leveling, which in my opinion is helpful with a large Shakespeare cast. “

Much of the popularity of “Much Ado About Nothing” comes from the fact that its message is almost unconsciously conveyed through pure entertainment.

“In addition to the relevance of the clash of the traditional world and the changing roles in a changing world and the clash of jokes and what fun that is, the other piece I find fascinating and charming is the portrayal of Class differences, ”said Grünberg. “They’re always there in Shakespeare’s plays, but in this one in particular, it’s the awkward lowlifes that expose the criminal deception that nobles are blind to.

“The upper class in this play is so quick to believe other people’s slander against women, and so vehemently criticize women. It’s the lowlifes who have the better instincts and provide the solution, ”she said. “It’s just very satisfying.”

Of course, “all Shakespeare comedies end with a wedding – not just with luck”.

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