We moved to our cabin in West Virginia about 17 years ago. For the ten years that we lived in Alexandria, VA, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., we had been attending many of the theatres regularly. At one time we actually had season tickets with Arena Stage, The Shakespeare Theatre, and Studio Theatre, in the same season. I think that “The English Patient” was about the only movie we saw at the cinema at the time. But, going to 20 or more plays per year was standard. What to do with our theatre time out here int he country? We had heard of a town, sort of a village, half-way up the Shenandoah Valley, Staunton, VA, which had just opened a new theatre space: The Blackfriar Theatre. Much Ado About Nothing, was playing. How quaint… a local, community theatre. We’re game.
Were we wrong. Were we arrogant. Were we humbled. Were we enthused. Were we hooked. For 16 years, we have been seeing half-a dozen to a dozen Shakespeare, or his contemporary playwrights, at what has become the American Shakespeare Center.
As with all organizations, the theatre company, management, crew, and cast have evolved. The core group dazzles us with their creativity, production after production. New college interns and graduates show up, perform a few seasons, become regulars, fall in love, get married, start families. Some move along after while, making room for new faces, talents, styles.
Family is more of the concept as formal as the name, the American Shakespeare Center, may sound. Being affiliated with the acting and theatre programs at Mary Baldwin College, we get to meet students who take our reservations, give us our tickets, serve us drinks at intermission, etc. We see them complete their classes, maybe have a role on stage, and move out into the world. We run into the actors before the show at the Bye and Bye coffee shop around the corner, or at the Split Banana gelato shop after the performance, or just walking on the street. A couple live on the street where a good friend lives over by Gypsy Hill park. The fourth wall of the theatre is absent in the Blackfriar Theatre.
A few weeks ago, we took visitors to see the current, or I must say recent, production of Much Ado About Nothing. Not only was the production memorable, for some features I we mention in a minute, but a week later theatre went dark. Broadway, D.C. venues, all major cities in the USA, and the Blackfriars Theatre were closed because of Covid19 and social distancing. We will miss other productions until the projected re-opening in June. When was the last time the Shakespeare’s plays were suspended? The Plague of 1592-1594? The English Civil war in 1642? And, now the corona virus pandemic of 2020.
While the story line of Much Ado About Nothing includes the woe-begotten lovers, Hero (Constance Swain) and Claudio (K. P. Powell), the other-story love-hate relationship of Beatrice (Meg Rodgers) and Benedick (Jessika D. Williams) drives the play. Hero and Claudio are niave loves, easily beguiled into jealous rage and shame by the scheming Don John (Zoe Spears) and conspirators, Conrade (Chris Johnston) and Borachio (Brandon Carter). But, Beatrice and Benedick are easily enough persuaded of each other’s love by more benign scheming of Margaret (Sylvia Davidson) and Ursula (Renea S. Brown), and Leonato (David Anthony Lewis), Antonio (John Harrell) and Claudio. The foolery really takes off when Dogberry (Benjamin Reed), the Constable of the Watch, comes out with his WWII era German helmet, Tommy Gun, and absurd use of words. Tears, tears, tears. Of joy, fear, laughter.
If only life were such. Out Covid19, Damn Spot!
While we wait to see who lives and who dies, which business re-open and which remain shuttered, we can remember better times and hope for the future.
From this production of Much Ado About Nothing, I will have a smile thinking about Jessika’s woman-playing-a-man (and sometimes man-costumed-as-a-woman festival scene) with a swagger, six-pack-of-beer, cracking-one-open, dismissal of the idea of marriage. And, Meg’s claw-your-eyes-out looks of defiance, while she slings the best lines of the play. Constance’s and K. P.’s easily yanked hearts, torn, and mended with the completely accidental confessions of plots revealed by Benjamin (who probably still does not realize that John Harrell played two roles in the play, not just his side-kick, “Neighbor”). And, as to John, when he walked across the stage, playing the ukulele and singing, “He’s in the Jailhouse Now”. Oh, and so many more great bits that I could not make sense of them for my readers. I’ll just smile to myself.
For, by ourselves, we shall remain for now. Self-quarantined. Sheltering in place. Binge watching streaming services. Deep cleaning our home. Filling boxes for Goodwill from our stuffed closets. Hoarding toilet paper… Not Much To Do About Nothing.
But, wait, you do something (in addition to checking in with your neighbors and cleaning your closets).
First, if you are a patron of the arts (or sporting events) and have tickets to cancelled shows, donate the tickets back to the organization. This will allow them to use the funds to pay the mortgages, and keep staff connected for when they can re-open.
Second, huzzah, the American Shakespeare Center has recorded Much Ado About Nothing and has it up for streaming! Go to americanshakespearecenter.com and follow the thread to BlkFrsTV. Buy a ticket (donations from $10 to $100) to get a link and password. Then pull up your seat to enjoy the show. You will see exactly the show we saw a few weeks ago, only with no audience. Every pre-show song, great bit of comedy, and intermission song is on-line for a time (I’m not sure how long this will be offered, but once you make your donation, you have a week to view the show). We watched Much Ado About Nothing Friday after work, while eating dinner, crocheting and spinning yarn (you can see a photo on my Instagram linked on my blog page).
Yes, there is Much To Do about Something. Yet ye hence to a internet server!
“We’re not in the jailhouse now. We’re not in the jailhouse now. I’ve told you once or twice, go ahead and roll those dice. We’re not in the jailhouse now!”