The Summer of Love

Thanks to Joss Wheedon, it’s been a Much Ado summer.  Without any intention of collecting an exclusive list of Much Ados in the New England area, I’ve personally seen four productions so far (two full productions, the film, and one staged reading).  Since I don’t have any more on the docket (unless something unexpected pops up, which it might), I thought I might take a moment to make some general observations about the play from my privileged Much Ado-steeped dramaturgical brain while the shows were fresh in my mind.  I suppose this could also serve as a basic primer for theatre makers looking to create a production of Much Ado and not looking to hire a dramaturge (big mistake, but the benefits of having someone around to serve that role are fodder for another post).

1)   The most hard and fast rule about producing Much Ado About Nothing is that your Beatrice and Benedick ABSOLUTELY have to work.  They essentially carry the production and without them, you’re sunk.  I’ve seen some tolerably good performances this summer, but none that were well matched (one show had a strong Beatrice and a weak Benedick, another show vice versa, etc.).  These actors need to be charming and deep.  The audience needs to love them despite their quirks.  They need to be experts with the language.  They need to have chemistry with each other.  Lining up these factors is nearly as difficult as convincing the stars to align (especially in the world of amateur theatre where your talent pool is your talent pool and there’s not much you can do about it), but vital to the health of your production.  Trust me, this will make or break your show.

2)   The part of Hero is perhaps the most difficult part in the show to play (Claudio and Dogberry make close seconds).  Honestly, one of the strongest performances of Hero I’ve ever seen was performed by a dressmaker’s dummy passed around to various cast members when Hero herself needed to be.  There’s a danger of making Hero too ingénue.  She absolutely has to be sweet and pretty and obedient, but she has some fire in her that, if allowed to come out, will add dimension to your production.  Think about the gulling of Beatrice; Hero is both smart and saucy (she demonstrates this as well in the ball scene when she sasses the masked Prince).  A further point of caution: if her part is cut too severely, she comes off as nothing but an airy fairy sugar-spun object.  Careful with this one.

3)   Dogberry is extremely difficult to make read to a modern audience.  If he’s played too smart, he doesn’t make sense.  If he’s played with too much status, he doesn’t make sense.  If he’s played by someone who does not have an absolutely command of the language, he doesn’t make sense.  Dogberry and the watch need to come off as well-meaning, sweet, regular guys whose logic sometimes doesn’t match our earth logic.  The most important thing to remember is that Dogberry is striving, with every fiber of his being, to have status he just doesn’t know how to make it work.  He’s trying, by virtue of “being is becoming”, to make himself into a real leader and a true soldier… he just can’t quite get there.

4)   The third-act wedding scene needs to be a punch in the gut bordering

some really cool shots of books I took this summer because I don't have anything else to put here

some really cool shots of books I took this summer because I don’t have anything else to put here

on melodrama.  This scene changes the entire tide of the production.  Suddenly we go from a rollicking comedy to something which (if ended prematurely) could more resemble a classic tragedy.  You really need to set this change of pace up for an audience and draw them into the mood.  Claudio really needs to manhandle Hero.  Hero really needs to have a reason to faint and look dead.  Beatrice really needs to have a reason to be weeping into the next scene.  These are strong, dynamic characters capable of extreme emotional manipulation and extreme emotional reaction; if this is not expressed, your production suddenly no longer has purpose.  The entire second half doesn’t have a reason to exist, and (most importantly), my favorite scene in the canon falls flat.  If there’s no real given reason for Beatrice’s famous utterance, the audience just won’t buy it.

5)   Speaking of duels, if you choose to modernize your production make sure the gender and status dynamics still make sense.  See my previous post on this point.

6)   Another note about status: the Prince needs to have an easy sort of control over every situation he’s placed in.  Though a guest in Leonato’s house (and in act four certainly emotionally indebted to Leonato), he is still the Prince.  Despite anything which may be happening (including, as he believes, the death of Leonato’s daughter which is at least in part his fault), he must maintain that status.  This is particularly important because modern American audiences do not understand status.  If you work hard through the course of your production to create status, any chink will make the entire illusion crumble.  Don’t give the audience a reason not to buy into your world.

7)   For god’s sake can someone please come up with a creative solution to Don John?  I have yet to see anyone in the role who doesn’t make me think of Keanu (though granted, Sean Maher’s performance came close to banishing this image – he was pretty sexy).  Textually, he’s a problem.  He’s obviously brooding and quiet, angry with his brother and ready to revel in any misfortune that he can cause because of this.  But is there any way to make this into a villain that we love to hate?  I’m so sick of stoic-faced Princes who turn into whining, petulant grumps in the presence of their henchmen only to plot a revenge which they obviously take no joy in.  Someone, please, fix this and invite me to your show so I can stop wondering if anyone will get the Prince a surfboard.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things I see, just bits which tackle some of the play’s bigger issues.  If you’re planning a production and are looking for a dramaturge, I highly encourage you to contact me.  I always love to participate in crafting good Shakespeare and this play has a special place in my heart.

And now, back to the comps grind.

Much Ado about Joss

So I finally got around to seeing Joss’ Much Ado last night.

I had some deep hesitations about it after having seen some clips of Joss talking about the script.  I am a HUGE devotee to Wheedon’s work and I adore most of his actors, but wasn’t sure that A) he had an understanding of the text deep enough to serve this project (this concern was primarily founded on his remark about the only way to explain the characters’ actions through the tale is via rampant drinking); B) Much Ado could really be slotted in to the short time-span famously available to this project; and C) Amy Acker had the chops to play Beatrice.

On the whole, I was right.

The film began slow and dark and there’s no reason Much Ado should be that

A shot I got of a friend's Italian mask.  It just seemed to fit here.

A shot I got of a friend’s Italian mask. It just seemed to fit here.

way – the show, like all Shakespeare (especially the comedies) is fast-paced and driving.  Especially when cuts are made (and Joss made some cuts, most of them graceful but a few of them clunky), things should progress at a good clip with a lot of energy.  The actors didn’t seem to find that energy or comfort level with their characters until the gulling scenes deep in Act II/at the beginning of Act III.  For that, the gulling of Benedick is one of the best I’ve ever seen onstage or screen and that really served as a springboard off which the movie flew.  The second half was markedly better and the actors seemed much more at ease with the text, the project, and each other.

Amy Acker was a lackluster Beatrice who seemed more fragile than feisty and more brooding than “born to speak all mirth”.  Alexis Denisof as Benedick had his moments of brilliance, which generally served to eclipse the moments during which he was far too low-energy and ominous.  Sean Maher was a brilliant Don John (it’s not his fault that I can’t hear anyone say the words “I thank you… I am of few words, but I thank you” without thinking it in Keanu’s voice).

Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry was problematic.  Things seemed to fall in for him during Act V, but until then his performance lacked a certain crucial justification.  Dogberry is a difficult character to play; much like Elbow from Measure for Measure this character type (the “learned” constable who’s actually a common man clown but tries so hard to be of good breeding that his speech comes out word salad) is one that doesn’t resonate horribly well with modern audiences.  There needs to be a reason for Dogberry’s confusion.  He’s not stupid, his logic just doesn’t match our earth logic.  The most successful Dogberry I’ve ever seen played the character as someone who had maybe been hit on the head one too many times or dropped in several instances as an infant.  This issue, may I point out, is one that a good dramaturge can really help with.  This kind of textual diagnosis takes experience to suss out and someone who is already intimate with the text can save you weeks of rehearsal discovery time by giving you the parameters Shakespeare himself set.  Especially in an environment like the one which produced Wheedon’s film, the dramaturge can be an invaluable resource to the project.

Unfortunately, I’m beginning to think that Hero is an unplayable character.  This is nothing against the Heroes I’ve seen recently (most of which have had some talent and understanding of the text), but the best Hero I ever saw was actually played by a dress-maker’s dummy.  No joke.  She’s so silent most of the time and, essentially, an object to the men around her.  Playing the part with enough pizazz to make her likeable (especially when most of her already few lines are cut, as in Wheedon’s film) requires some spark that I just haven’t seen yet.  Unfortunately, the audience liking Hero is central to us buying in to the main plot arc.  For the most part, we like Hero because Beatrice likes Hero rather than Hero being a likeable character.  Which is not to say we dislike Hero, just that she’s more sweet and plain than a nilla wafer.

So I didn’t dislike Joss’ film, it just won’t go into my books as the PARAMOUR OF MUCH ADOs.  On the whole, I see it as a fine case study in reasons to hire a dramaturge and what happens when a project is rushed.  I think Wheedon fans will enjoy it, and Shakespeareans will find it a good excuse to sit in an air-conditioned theatre on a disgusting summer day.

Breaching the Breech

Earlier this week, I was able to attend a reading of Much Ado About Nothing presented by the Hub theatre company at Boston’s own Trident booksellers.

I’ve come to be wary of staged readings of Shakespeare.  By and large, I think that this forum works better for the tragedies (the comedies often rely upon too much physical humor/movement to make land in a staged reading, and the histories are already confusing enough without mixing in the complications of double-casting and no costumes).  For that, this was an enjoyable and low-key evening of theatre.

One thing that really got me thinking was the casting of a lady Leonato.  I’ve seen this trend developing lately (Actor’s Shakespeare Project cast a lady Duke of Milan in their Two Gents earlier this year).  We’ve seen in recent years (and I will blame this majorly on Julie Taymor) many female Prosperos, but to see this trend of making Shakespeare’s august noble characters in positions of power who are volleying politics by marrying off their daughters turned into women begs some complications that have to be re-examined.

Let me start off by saying that this has nothing to do with the quality of the acting.  So far, every august Lady I’ve seen in these roles has been fantastic.  But there are a few innate gender issues that you simply can’t escape when you have a woman playing a man’s role in this way.

I will limit my discussion here to Leonato because expanding it would get us into too-long-to-blog territory.

Even when we modernize Much Ado, was have to deal with a few dramaturgical truths.  Any “modernized” production of Shakespeare still needs to face the text because, well, you can’t ignore it.  If you ignore the text, why are you doing Shakespeare?

Dramaturgical truth the first: We’re in a world that has defined gender relationships.  This is made true by Beatrice’s show-stopping speech in Act Four.  She laments that she is powerless in her situation due to her gender.  As such, even if we drag the show into

In case you're not sick of these shots yet; Rosalind and Touchstone from As You Like It... TALK about gender issues

In case you’re not sick of these shots yet; Rosalind and Touchstone from As You Like It… TALK about gender issues

“modern” or semi-modern times, we must still be in a universe with distinct gender boundaries.

Dramaturgical truth the second: We’re in a world where marrying someone is a play for political power.  We know this because of Leonato coaching Hero before the dance (“Daughter, remember what I told you: if the prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer”).  For that matter, we’re in a world with a very defined social hierarchy dealing with characters who have title and standing (A Prince, the Count Claudio, etc.).  Leonato is a part of this world; as a wealthy landowner he can host the Prince and his entourage and even seems to have some standing amongst them.  However, he is not blind to the opportunities which may present themselves while the Prince is a guest in his household.  Marrying his daughter to the Prince would do wonders for Leonato’s social standing and, while he’s not a cut-throat social climber like (for instance) Lord Capulet, he does have an awareness of society around him.

Dramaturgical truth the third: Gender relations and transgresses upon them make up a large portion of this play’s plot.  While we are dealing with wedding and wooing, the play’s major conflict also consists of Hero’s supposed trespass against her duties as a good daughter.  It is a very different scene when she and Beatrice are the only women onstage attacked and defended by the men around them than it is if Leonato becomes Leonata.  In the first case, we clearly see the gender divide that Beatrice laments in the scene to follow.  In the second, we wonder why it is that Beatrice can’t fight the gender roles just as Leonata did and assert her own authority.  In this way, giving Leonato a sex change very clearly negates Shakespeare’s text.  It gives us a world that no longer makes sense, a world that fights the text itself.  Unless a director can find some way to extratextually justify Beatrice’s speech, an audience is left wondering what the big deal is.  And, honestly, any play which needs to make extratextual additions or clarifications is edging into shooting Horatio territory.

Dramaturgical truth the fourth: By making Leonato a woman, we are left with a few historical heritage questions.  Though it’s true that a woman who had become a widower would have been allowed to keep her husband’s estate and have some power over running it, pretty much any man who came along could have found some way to run rampant over her power there and disenfranchise her.  In Much Ado, we have several examples of power hungry men who have everything to gain from Leonata’s estate (the most ready example is Don John the Bastard who could just as easily have ruined everyone’s plans by semi-force-wedding Leonata as he did with his elaborate bed-trick scheme… also: the wedding would have been more permanent).  By making Leonato a woman, it leaves unnecessary loose ends.  Does Leonata end up with Don Pedro at the end (it’s the easiest solution to Benedick’s closing suggestion of “get thee a wife”)?  This director made that particular choice, but that particular choice has its own complications.  What does that mean to the government of Messina?  What does that mean to Leonato’s estate?  Has Claudio then, thereby, inadvertently become much more than he deserves by wedding Hero?  Does this mean that Don John is going to now target Leonato’s line in the obviously ensuing war since Leonato, Hero, and Claudio now stand between himself and his brother’s kingdom?

I think, at this juncture, I’ve sufficiently proven my point.  Cross-gendered casting is not something to be taken lightly (even if you have an awesome cast!).  In the event that you would like to proceed with something like this, make sure you also have an awesome dramaturge to help you think through these issues before you give some poor theatre scholar a headache.  If you don’t have an awesome dramaturge, I happen to know one (hint: it’s me).

This is only the first in a series of readings that Hub is putting on this summer at Trident.  They’re calling the series Beer+bard and despite my over-thinky nit-picks, I do highly recommend that you check them out.  The next is going to be Henry IV i on June 17th at 7PM; come hungry for food and Shakespeare!

Definitely a Hurricane

So last night, in an effort to run away and join the Shakespeare circus for an evening instead of agonizing over the proper usage of periods in Chicago-style citation (seriously, Tufts, you are BLOWING THE MIND of this MLA-girl… guess I should get used to it since this is the rest of my life… sigh), I took my gay best friend to see Bad Habit Productions’ Much Ado About Nothing …with a twist.

The show’s a straight-up Much Ado performed with only five (count them! Five!) actors.

One of the things that I love about theatre companies who don’t normally do Shakespeare doing Shakespeare is that they tend to bring a sense of fun to it.  There was a spirit of play that permeated this show which really kept the energy moving and the audience willing to smile along with it.  The actors (for the most part) were multi-talented and at least half of them played several instruments and sang at some point in the production (one of the many script concessions was the addition of contemporary pop music which I did love).  One actress in particular, Sierra Kagen, truly blew me away.  She played a heart-felt Leonato, a sniveling Conrade, and an outright uproarious Margaret.  The only problem I had with her was that when she was onstage I had trouble looking at anyone else because the things she was doing were just so darn engaging.

Evan Sanderson really got to strut his stuff as Dogbery, which is great because his primary role (Claudio) can be a real bore to play.  I mean really, who wants to spend an entire show as a wide-eyed, fresh-faced male lead intent on nothing but winning the hand of the pretty girl?  Sanderson’s sense of comic timing and his subtle touches (best use of a lisp I’ve heard onstage in a long time) made the eccentric watchman truly light up the space.  Bravo, Sanderson.  Well done.

Unfortunately, the company’s weakest actress (Sasha Castroverde) played Beatrice and that (to be completely honest) really made me angry.  So, I have this thing.  Call it a retired actor thing.  If I see someone in a role which I know I can perform better (especially if it’s a role that I want to perform), I get very angry and distracted and there’s little I can do to keep myself from leaping out of my chair and delivering the lines for the actor onstage.  Someday, this instinct is going to get me into a whole lot of trouble.  I recommend the commencement of bail-money fund-raising immediately.  Last night, there was little I could do to take myself away from the fact that Castroverde simply did not have the fire in her belly for this role.  This was made doubly unfortunate because her Benedick (David Lutheran) was exceedingly talented.  Also… Castroverde seriously needs to work on her posture.

One downright brilliant concession made by the company was the fact that, while all the other roles were consistently played by one actor, the part of Hero was shared between all five.  Gender-bending and wonderful, every member of the cast took a turn at throwing on an ugly brown wig and a hideous blue dress to play the boring damsel.  This concession really took a snoozer of a part and made it into something interesting (and packed a punch when such lines as “your Hero, every man’s Hero!” and “one Hero died… but I do live”, and “Another Hero!” were uttered… though I do wish the director had made a nod at his genius concession with these lines.. they just beg for it!).

The script itself was fairly heavily cut, but anyone who isn’t a super-dork like me won’t really notice.  Some cuts were necessary due to the character set to speak the line simply not being onstage because the actor was playing someone else at the time.  Others were doubtlessly made to accommodate the many added musical numbers.  Either way, the cuts were fairly seamless and there wasn’t anything eliminated that I actually missed.

Perhaps the weak point in the production (and this, unfortunately, is a consistent weak point in Shakespeare productions done by non-Shakespeare companies) was the text coaching.  Word to the wise: text coaching can make a good production great and an awful production tolerable.  If you ever wind up directing, producing, or working on a production of Shakespeare, make certain that there’s a text coach on hand who knows her stuff (…hire me?  Please?).  While this production did make me smile and chuckle, it could have done with some more punch in the text department.  That would have truly taken it to the next level.

The production only has four shows left (it closes this Sunday), and you should definitely make an effort to go see it.  It’s well worth the cost of admission to see the four dynamos and one middler try and pull off the wedding scene (which, by the way, they do surprisingly well).  Tickets are available via Bad Habit’s website or, for the thrifty theatre-goer, Goldstar.

Still Finding the Energy

I’m nearly there.  So close.  Last one goes down on Sunday, and that (my friends) will be the “thud” heard round the world (…or at least the “ding” heard round the world since it’s being submitted via e-mail).  After that, I wish I could say I get a real break, but instead I’ve got two weeks to polish a paper for a publication deadline (say that ten times fast) and churn out an abstract for ASTR (which I am determined to make this year because it’s in Nashville and thereby will give me an excuse to wear my fantastic cowboy boots to my panel).  I also only have a week and a half between last final submission and German classes starting up so… yea.  Breaks are for the weak.

In an effort to maintain my sanity, today I’m making you Another Random Finals List because I really don’t have the brain space to leak anything else out.

1)    I’m a grown woman and My Little Ponies (Friendship is Magic) still makes me smile.  I

Pony with a library!!!

have no shame about this.  You should try watching it; especially if you’re an over-worked academic who would love to find more time to be with her friends because (I kid you not) the lead pony is ALSO an over-worked academic whose friends insist on her making time for them.  Yes, I am Twilight Sparkle.  Deal with it, academy.

2)    The Muppets also make me smile.  As an archetype of everything I love about theatre, watching the Muppets is a sure-fire way to make me remember why I chose this profession.

3)    So is watching “The Shakespeare Code”.

4)    I’m not sure how to feel about the fact that I now have a designated study/paper-writing blanket.  It is both warm and fuzzy.  And I haven’t managed to get red ink on it yet (though I await the day… it already has a war-wound from a crafting project gone awry).  This blanket may be the most comforting thing I own and I’m truly hoping that A) I don’t begin to associate it with the emotional trauma of finals time and B) I don’t turn into Linus because that would just be sad.

5)    Saw a pretty decent production of The Importance of Being Earnest this past weekend by Theatre to Go.  For community theatre, it was solid.  Those long Victorian scenes can be really difficult to make read to a modern audience (lots of antiquated wit flying about), but I thought it was fairly well done.  I took my favorite companion (who had never before seen nor read any of Wilde’s work) and he had a good time, which is probably a better gauge of the production than my snobbery.  I do wish there had been some dramaturgical gloss in the program, however, since so much of this wit is out-dated double-entendre (…dramaturgical gloss for those not in the know: “Earnest” is, debatably, a nineteenth-century euphemism for “homosexual” and if you’re not also reading that in the term “bunburying” you’re additionally missing the joke… I could go into a long explanation about the close proximity of the play’s London premiere to Wilde’s trial, but I’ll save that for a time when my brain functions a bit better).  Also, I am of the personal opinion that Lady

Brian Bedford as Lady B in the 2009 Broadway Revival

Bracknell is a role best played by a man of at least six feet in stature and barrel-chested.  TTG’s actress (Kate Beattie) definitely had the fire, and did a great job, but there’s nothing like cross-dressing to really get wild with your Wilde.

6)    Speaking of theatre, I will be hitting 28 Seeds again on Friday.  The show closes this weekend, so if you haven’t seen it yet, get your butt over to BCA and fix that!  Well worth the cost of admission.  I’m also hitting Bad Habit Productions’ Much Ado About Nothing tomorrow which should, at the very least, prove interesting.  The entire show is done with five actors.  This will either be a hurricane, or a train wreck.  Stay tuned.

7)    …I feel like that phrase (“hurricane or a train wreck”) could pretty much describe my life in general.  With great risk comes great reward… or great laughing at yourself when you fall on your face.

8)    I’m going to the gym now.  Exercise gives you endorphins.  Endorphins make you happy.  Happy people don’t just shoot their husbands.

Much Ado About Joss

Yesterday morning, I awoke to a wonderful e-mail in my inbox.  The e-mail (from a dear friend) directed me to this link.  The day proceeded to unfold in a series of facebook postings and overall internet twitter about the project and, of course, the wonderful people in my life who recognize what a complete nerd I am and believe that I absolutely must know about this immediately.

In case you haven’t heard yet (or clicked the link above), the news has been confirmed: Joss Whedon secretly filmed a version of Much Ado About Nothing during his one-month vacation from “The Avengers”.  The film’s website (including initial press release) is located here.

Well this is an exciting move for American Shakespeare.

First things first, let’s tackle Whedon’s choice to take on a Shakespeare film adaptation.  The King of the modern Shakespeare film is without a doubt Mister Kenneth Branagh.  Branagh’s films are lush and well publicized and not lacking in technique or tradition.  Branagh is undoubtedly a pivotal part of the modern Shakespeare tradition due to the audiences he has brought to the Bard’s work.  However.  Despite the fact that well-known American actors have worked on Branagh films (Alicia Silverstone’s Princess, Kevin Kline’s Jaques, and who could forget Keanu’s Don John?), Branagh is unrelentingly an Irishman working in an Englishman’s industry.  His films, despite their popularity in the US, are certainly part of our cultural tradition though not a part of our Shakespeare tradition.

There have been American Shakespeare films before.  I am loathe to call Zeffirelli’s 1990 Hamlet an “American Shakespeare” (even though it did star Mel Gibson and what’s more American than that besides Sam the Eagle?), but we could term Luhrman’s 1996 abomination of a film as such.  In addition, Julie Taymore has her 2010 The Tempest and her 1999 Titus, the Radford Merchant of Venice staring Al Pacino as Shylock (2004), Olivia Parker’s 1995 Othello starring Laurence Fishburne, Michael Hoffman’s 1999 Midsummer with Kevin Klein, and (historically) Max Reinhardt’s Dream of 1935.  If we think about the entire Shakespeare on Film opus, that’s a pretty puny lot that Americans have managed to produce.

I would argue that Whedon’s version will be the first modern purely American Shakespeare.  In addition to American acting and directing sensibilities, the instinct to release it via the internet (a la “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”) also brands it as a creation of contemporary American culture publicized via a globalized world.  In short; this could be huge.  This could be international.  This could be great.

And it’s an attempt by our budding Shakespeare tradition to break free from stodgy molds and create something new.

Maher as Don John. You work that suit, Simon!

Undoubtedly, Whedon’s production is going to be compared to Branagh’s ’93 film and only time (and a full review) can tell how it will hold up.  My initial impressions are better already – who wouldn’t take Sean Maher over Keanu?

Whedon’s choice in play to film is not unexpected given his canon.  He has long been attracted to strong female leads (“Buffy”, “Doll’s House”, “Firefly”), his humor is witty and quirky, and he seems particularly fascinated by soldiers and war stories.  For all of these things, Much Ado fits the bill.  I am particularly looking forward to Nathan Fillion’s performance of Dogberry and Sean Maher’s Don John (who will, with no doubt, overtake Keanu’s California surfer boy with the talent contained in his pinky finger… really, folks, it doesn’t take much to outstrip an actor with one feeling).

There are two things that makes me slightly nervous about the enterprise: one, there is no recognizable dramaturge working with Whedon.  While I don’t wish to belittle the intelligence of a man whose creativity and artistry I well respect, I will say that it is a haphazard move to work on a film of what is essentially a period piece without consulting someone who really knows what they are talking about.  To a modern director (especially someone working in film with what is traditionally a stage medium), a good dramaturge can be a godsend.  Who else is going to contextualize the piece within its historical and modern importance?  Who else is going to do the research as to what random words mean and how they should be presented?  Who else is going to deal with dimwit actors who can’t seem to find a grasp of the text?  Whedon isn’t a Shakespeare virgin, but even the best need some backup.  In an interview, Whedon confessed to some trepidation over the title “Much Ado About Nothing”.  “Well, I have nothing to say about nothing” he said.  Of course, after many re-reads of the script he realized that this title isn’t really what the play is about.  This sort of problem is precisely why you need a good dramaturge; somehow who has researched this stuff and can explain the connections.  Someone who can steer you clear of these misconceptions.  Someone who knows their Shakespeare, darnit!

My second bit of nervousness has to do with the relative inexperience of film actors with Shakespearean text.  I’m not saying that there’s no possibility of amateurs being brilliant, I’m just saying that without proper vocal and text coaching such things have proven in the past to be disastrous (just look at Leo and Claire in Luhrman’s film if you really want proof of a train wreck).

For that, I will be looking forward to seeing Wheedon’s directing style within this piece as

Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as Beatrice and Benedick

well as a certain loyalty to the text.  Too often, hip American directors superimpose their vision and words over text which has, for hundreds of years, spoken for itself.  Whedon’s actors, while all amazing in their own right, have never struck me as the most disciplined lot.  It will be a true test of their worth to see how well they manage when a certain sort of freedom is stripped from them.  In addition, much of Whedon’s work relies upon acting between the lines; pregnant pauses, meaningful glances, physical humor unalluded to within the text of the script…  All of this must go with Shakespeare.  Shakespeare is entirely about acting on the lines.  There is no subtext in Shakespeare.  Everything you need to make a successful and entertaining production is right there.  Trusting the Bard is the only way to create a meaningful Shakespeare (lack of this, by the by, was Luhrman’s greatest failing).

If Whedon and his gang can overcome the desire to insert between Shakespeare’s text, I truly believe that this will be a film for the ages.

I am very much looking forward to seeing it.