IF YOU GO
‘Much Ado about Nothing’
Who: Naples Players
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 21
Where: Sugden Community Theatre, Tobye Studio, 701 Fifth Ave. S., Naples
When: $20, adults; $10, students through age 18. 263-7990.
Red leather, yellow leather. Red leather, yellow leather.
After you’ve pronounced that straight through 20 times, your tongue feels as if it’s been stretched to fit a much larger mouth. It’s the zenith of tough verbal exercises from Naples Players director Annette Trossbach to keep her actors conscious of their enunciation.
And enunciate they must. In William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about Nothing,” the tale of a well-intentioned romantic plot that goes gone terribly awry, the bard doesn’t shoot stray bullets; every word packs some etymological punch.
So this production, which opened Wednesday in the Tobye Studio at Sugden Community Theatre, is conscious of timing, elocution and the physical portrayal of words that aren’t familiar to a population awash in verbiage such as “I was like ....”
Red leather, yellow leather.
“Much Ado About Nothing” is one of Shakespeare’s most fully loaded works. English majors study its various treatments of the word “nothing” and the significance behind the characters’ carefully chosen names. For the average playgoer, however, “Much Ado” is the familiar story of young love’s painful vulnerability, and the extent of cross-purposes we will play at to force out a confession of it.
Many of us will recognize some of our own adolescent tricks in the plot to flush out Benedick’s and Beatrice’s true feelings for each other. Many of us have felt the same rush of blinding anger — and behaved as badly — as Claudio does when he thinks his betrothed has a back-door boyfriend.
“Everyone gets set up to believe some falsehood, and they get suckered in so easily,” observed Trossbach with a chuckle. Yet, she added, they’re believable personalities — much richer than most of the characters in “Clockwork Orange,” which she directed for her own More Crinoline Productions in Fort Myers last month.
“Isn’t that great? I love that. ‘Clockwork Orange’ was exactly the opposite, because, except for the character of Alex, there wasn’t really deep character development. I really enjoy working with characters.”
Booking Shakespeare, however, seems to be risky in an economic era when theater companies are offering escapist fare as good box office.
“There’s been a contingent in Naples that’s really been pushing for some Shakespeare for some time,” Trossbach countered. The choice of “Much Ado” came from Naples Players Artistic Director Dallas Dunnagan, who had seen it in Stratford-on-Avon. Shakespeare is not above out-loud laughs, Trossbach emphasized.
“I approach Shakespeare from the point of view to removing the barriers to people enjoying it. One is the costuming — tunics, floor-length gowns, codpieces — things that distract people,” she said. The Naples Players production is in 1990s-era clothing, with Austin Reed suits and yuppie fem garb. Trossbach also uses what she calls “broad acting,” which incorporates physical indications — “A gesture or a muscle group tension will be a springboard for a certain actor” — rather than the classical gestures that have been worn into caricatures.
Finally, she dumped the British accents Shakespearean plays often incorporate.
“First of all, it’s never consistent without extensive coaching. I can do that with actors, but why? We identify with American accents. Let’s do it in a modern setting with modern emotions we can sympathize with:”
Trossbach also likes to bring out a cast’s inner Shakespeare: “Usually I’ll work with community people with very little to zero training. It’s a crash course,” she declared happily. The actors in “Much Ado” may also be extra conscientious about their characters because they’re playing against type.
At a technical rehearsal last week, the cast were in that ‘90s look, with camouflage gear from Operation Desert Storm and local law enforcement trappings of “The Wonder Years.” Set, light and sound designer Jeff Weiss had piped in some Bon Jovi to set a student union mood, and behind the Sicilian stucco walls there could have been a fax machine spitting out lunch menus.
“It’s my first serious role,” admitted Bill Ziff-Levine, who plays Hero’s doting, but eventually disbelieving, father. “I’ve always done comedy.
“But it wasn’t hard to understand the character,” he added. “I have a daughter who is about the age Hero is, so I could understand a lot of his behavior. Leonato is a nice guy, until ...” He shoots that familiar angry-dad look.
“A Christmas Carol” was Karl Williams’ last venture on stage. The retired GE engineer was back in greasepaint in the role of Verges, sidekick to Dogberry, the local constable. Dressed in a security guard’s garb for his part, the lanky Williams, who has been a boat captain at the Conservancy and a volunteer with SCORE, says he’s doing things in retirement that he has always wanted to do again.
Or in this case, do even better than before. His last onstage role was at least 10 years ago, he added, at a community college “that wasn’t near the professional level of this production.”