On Friday, Aug. 4, pack your snacks, blankets and lawn chairs and gather in Wright Park for a free outdoor production of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” The show starts at 7 p.m. and arrives in Tacoma courtesy of Seattle Shakespeare Co.’s Wooden O productions, a traveling troupe that specializes in open-air shows.
Shakespeare used his clever quill to compose more comedies than tragedies (barely) and “Much Ado About Nothing” is one of his finest. It features the barbed bantering of two of his cleverest characters, Beatrice and Benedick. The pair go at each other with tongues like poison daggers until the other characters trick the two into falling in love with one another. Meanwhile Hero, the lovely daughter of Leonato, governor of Messina, and Claudio, a young lord of Florence, fall in love and are engaged to wed. A scheme to spoil the wedding is cooked up by Don John, the wicked brother of Don Pedro, prince of Arragon. Amid this complex web move the characters, masking themselves, hiding themselves in tricks and deceptions and counter-deceptions. The whole matrix is a marvel to behold.
Shakespeare, the master poet, also was clever at bawdy humor and the play is rife with sexual innuendo. The titular word “nothing,” for example, was an Elizabethan euphemism for a woman’s private parts. That puts a whole other spin on things, wouldn’t you say?
Shakespeare in the Park has become a generic term for outdoor festivals featuring productions of Shakespeare’s plays. The phenomenon originated with the New York Shakespeare Festival in New York City’s Central Park, originally created by Joseph Papp in 1954. The concept was so brilliant that it spread like wildfire and now takes place – usually during the summer – at outdoor venues in cities all over the English-speaking world.
In our neck of the woods, the GreenStage began producing free Shakespeare plays in major parks in and around Seattle in 1989. In 1994, the Wooden O started annual summer Shakespeare performances at the Luther Burbank Amphitheater on Mercer Island. In the spring of 2008 the Seattle Shakespeare Company merged with Wooden O and continues to present free Shakespeare productions throughout the Puget Sound region.
Jon Kretzu, who staged Wooden O’s recent indoor productions of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and “Twelfth Night,” is the director of “Much Ado About Nothing,” which has been showing at parks all over the region since July 6. The production features MJ Sieber as Benedick and Keiko Green as Beatrice. Both Sieber and Green were just on stage in our recent musical version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as Bottom and Helena. (At other parks, the production company is staging performances of “Pericles.”)
Shakespeare in the Park takes place Aug. 4 at 7 p.m. at Wright Park, 501 S. I St. (Look for the event near South I and South 4th streets, directly to the left/north of the restrooms.) Cost: Free. For information visitmetroparkstacoma.org/calendar.
How to Understand Shakespeare’s Plays
1. Relax. You don’t have to understand every word to appreciate it. Pretend that you’re listening to someone with a strong accent. At first you might miss a lot, but you begin to acclimate yourself to the manner of speech and more will come.
2. Remember that it was written to be entertainment. Many approach Shakespeare as elitist and too high-brow to understand or appreciate. But Shakespeare was for everyone and you can follow the story as much by the acting of the cast as by the dialogue. (Though I must admit that reading a quick synopsis of the play will keep you grounded.)
3. Watch a few YouTube clips of people explaining some of the contours and characters of the specific play.
4. Immerse yourself in the poetry. Shakespeare was a poet and a lot of his plays were written partly in verse, which means that sometimes he chose words because he liked the way they sounded. Try listening to Shakespeare like you listen to music. Sit back and enjoy the rhythm and sounds.
5. Learn some basic Shakespearean vocabulary. There are tons of websites devoted to just this. Try bardweb.net/language.html for starters.