Log In

Reset Password
Performing Arts

Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ opens June 30 at FLC

Isabelle Herringer (Beatrice) and Holden Grace (Benedick) dress in 1940s post-World War II style in the costume shop for “Much Ado About Nothing.” (Courtesy)

It’s 1945. American soldiers are returning home from World War II. Big-band music fills the air – “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “I’m Beginning to See the Light.”

That’s the setting for “Much Ado About Nothing,” Shakespeare’s comedy about the battle of the sexes, opening Thursday (June 30) at Fort Lewis College. Durango Theatreworks is bringing back Shakespeare Under the Stars to the campus at the outdoor Busby Amphitheatre through July 10.

Spearheaded by Michael McKelvey, head of FLC’s new musical theater program and impresario of Durango Theatreworks, the show features Holden Grace, a recent FLC graduate, as Benedick, and Isabelle Herringer, a theater and political science major at Loyola Marymount University, as Beatrice. Four other actors fill out the cast: Kiedis Begaye, Jay Hall, Kieran Peck and Linda Stephenson. Each takes on multiple roles in order to bring Shakespeare’s comedic universe to life. Director Robert Faires has traveled from Austin, Texas, to join the team and shape 15 scenes into whole cloth on FLC’s outdoor stage.

Shakespeare borrowed the plot from various sources dating back to Greek comedy. Ancient conventions, such as pranks, fake turns, love-at-first-sight, casual misunderstandings and overheard conversations, lead to Comedy’s inevitable happy ending.

That said, here’s the story: The war is over, and three soldiers, Don Pedro, Claudio and Benedick, arrive at Leonato’s house for a stopover. They are greeted by Leonato’s daughter, Hero, and her cousin, Beatrice. Young Claudio instantly falls for Hero, introducing the love-at-first-sight convention and an inevitable marriage. Beatrice, who apparently met Benedick earlier, reignites an original spark, “a merry little war.” Their highly contentious relationship rekindles as verbal combat, energizing the whole play. Meanwhile, Hero and Claudio’s romance stumbles when another character, Don John, Don Pedro’s mean-spirited half-brother, concocts a prank that drastically subverts wedding plans. The two storylines intertwine and gain considerable speed at the end. Running time for this production is one hour and 45 minutes.

Besides time traveling “Much Ado” to 1945 with costumes, music and even some jitterbug, another theatrical device has been used to bring the late-16-century comedy to a modern audience.

“There’s a lot of ‘breaking-the-fourth-wall,’” Grace said. “The actors frequently speak directly to the audience, as in all of Shakespeare’s plays. For example, there’s a moment when I give a good wink to the women in the audience. I flirt with them as part of what Benedick is saying.”

If you go

WHAT: “Much Ado About Nothing,” a comedy by William Shakespeare, directed by Robert Faires, Durango Theatreworks at Fort Lewis College.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. June 30, July 1-3, 5, 7, 9 and 10.

WHERE: Busby Outdoor Amphitheatre, FLC, 1000 Rim Drive.

TICKETS: $15 to $30, available online at https://bit.ly/3Owbo3l. Plenty of free parking.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.durangotheatreworks.org and www.durangoconcerts.com.

“Beatrice also breaks the fourth wall in different scenes, especially when she references me,” Herringer said. “She may gesture or look at someone in the audience when she’s doing that. Or, when Beatrice sees or thinks outside of herself. When she eventually learns of Benedick’s love, she talks to the audience. She examines herself and has to confront her unlovable aspects. And, she changes her opinion of herself.

“I love her,” she said. “She’s feisty, independent, and she doesn’t need a man for validation.”

In contrast, “Benedick is a goofball,” Grace said. “But he’s a good goofball.”

Pretending he was breaking the fourth wall, he added: “I play to my strengths in that regard.”

Encountering Shakespeare

Isabelle Herringer and Holden Grace have a long list of acting credits.

Herringer is a graduate of Durango High School, where she played Mary Warren in “The Crucible,” Flossy in “On the Town” and Little Eponine in “Les Misérables.” She’s a mezzo-soprano who has studied with Drea Pressley and Jill Holly, and performed under directors Mona Wood Patterson and Ben Mattson. Herringer is now a student at Loyola Marymount University.

Grace is an actor-singer and recent graduate of Fort Lewis College. He has had leading roles in many FLC productions such as “The Pirates of Penzance” and most recently as Judge Turpin in “Sweeney Todd.” Among other directors, Grace has learned from Dennis Elkins, Felicia Meyer, Ginny Davis and Michael McKelvey. Grace has also studied voice and opera performance with FLC’s Wesley Dunnagan.

With all their performance history behind them, Herringer and Grace said “Much Ado About Nothing” is their first Shakespearean production.

“It’s been my dream,” Grace said. “And I’ve learned that it’s one thing to see a Shakespearean play and another to be in it. Once you are into the show, you realize how much your respect for the language changes.

“Our director (Robert Faires) has done a good job deepening our understanding for Shakespearean language,” he said. “He’s pointed out certain words specifically, such as the word ‘wonder.’ It appears often in the text.

“Robert suggested that every time we see that word, we give it some importance. Near the end of the play, for example, the Friar says: ‘Let wonder seem familiar,’” he said. “Up to that point, there’s been a lot of confusion that can’t be explained – or will be explained later. So, the Friar says that line and emphasizes wonder.

“Isn’t enjoying Shakespeare as the actors are on stage – about the audience suspending disbelief and experiencing wonder?”

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.