Friday, February 21, 2014

DOUBLE REVIEW: BGHS's "Much Ado About Nothing" Really Something

Sometimes you do Shakespeare just for fun (and because it's royalty-free). Or maybe you do it for educational purposes. Whatever the reason the Battle Ground High School Drama Club presents William Shakespeare's comedy "MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING" as their winter production:

The Play's the Thing

Most dramaturges consider the play one of Shakespeare's best comedies "because it combines elements of robust hilarity with more serious meditations on honor, shame, and court politics." In other words you've got satirical commentary wrapped in comedic content so that "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."

Some might consider the Bard's material archaic and hard to understand. Indeed that may be true in part until one studies the master enough to appreciate the historical context and witty words. Certainly there is hidden context which moderns may not readily appreciate, but with proper direction and educated interpretation the actors can bridge the historical gap.

For example, lets begin with the title: "nothing" sounds similar to "noting," which a few hundred years ago meant gossip, rumor, and overhearing, and is used as a play on words. And that, along within the context of the plays ado--two couples in courtship while friends meddle--gives you an indicator of what you're in for.

In fact, some of the most hilarious blocked scenes are when the lead characters are listening in on conversations they think they are not meant to hear.

Merely the Players

Benedick (Tullee Standford) and Beatrice (Sarah Russell) by the fountain.
The production, directed by Stephan "Cash" Henry, features a cast of twenty, among them: Sarah Russell as Beatrice, Tullee Stanford as Benedick, Brendan Groat as Claudio, Desiree Roy as Hero, Dalton Hidden as Leonato, Sky Ring as Dogberry, and Jake Gailey as Don John.

Many in the cast are first or second time players, but you wouldn't know it. The standouts among them were: Cody Bronkhorst as Don Pedro, Jake Gaily as Don John, Tanner Leeds as Friar Francis; and especially, Tullee Stanford as the leading man Benedick, Desiree Roy as the second leading lady Hero and Ryan McNeal in the bit part of Balthasar. The latter three seemed far more seasoned in their performances than their bios let on. Standford and Roy's (sounds like a Vegas magic show) performances were both very strong.

I must also note two especially fine performances by the more seasoned members of the cast: Sarah Russell as the strong-willed Beatrice and Sky Ring (playing cross-gender) as Dogberry. Both actresses, whom I've seen many times before, gave exceptional performances, but I must say that I feel Ring nearly stole the show.

Sky Ring gave a simply amazing comic performance. Delightfully flamboyant, physically and vocally masterful with 100% amusing energy. Part Capt. Jack Sparrow mixed with an audacious amount of Carol Burnett, Ring's performance was just too much fun. Perfectly played!

However, while all in the cast played well--especially for high-schoolers doing Shakespeare for the first time--I felt their performances, for the most part, were under-informed. Let me explain...

The World of the Stage

Hero (Desiree Roy) faints.
Photos by Stephan "Cash" Henry.
There are good Shakespearean experiences and there are bad ones. They can be dull and confusing or entertaining and eye-opening. Much depends on "translation" and character development. In order for an untrained/uninformed audience to "get it" the cast must convey the historical and contextual meaning of the words and actions. Those unfamiliar with the archaic terms, phrases and traditions of Elizabethan England--and especially the oddness of iambic pentameter--might be left scratching their heads saying "huh?".

I have seen Shakespeare well translated/interpreted with the "secondary languages" of facial expression and physical innuendo. Such an effort takes a great deal of time on the part of the director and cast. Each unfamiliar phrase or double-meaning must be explained and explored. This is great if you're doing Shakespeare for educational purposes, but can also be a bore if you're not really into it.

This production was not entirely boring nor was it completely entertaining. I felt the cast was under-informed because not all the subtext was made apparent to the audience. Certainly some time and attention was given this education by the director--that is apparent--but not enough. It could have been more clear and, therefore, more enjoyable to those who are not Bard snobs.

Which also brings to mind the style of delivery. Purists, who would set the play authentically in period only, might insist on the poetic lilt/cadence and rhythm of the textual style (iambic pentameter). It's artistic and traditional, but can be annoying and hard to follow (due to its line breaks and flow). Then there's the idea of "conversational" Shakespeare which is delivered without regard to the poetry of the text, but spoken in the thought flow of modern American English, which seemed to be, generally, how this production approached the work.

I believe one can strike a balance with the two styles. Again, this requires painstaking education and every line must be scrutinized and marked for pace, breath, and cadence--practiced and critiqued--until perfected. To a degree one does these things with every script, but it is more difficult when using a language you are not fluent in (and this is, for all intents and purposes, a different language). Americans are generally sloppy with English anyway.

Which brings me to my last critical point: Diction was generally good, but some of the players ran words together by speaking too quickly. Multiple thoughts ran together at times because proper pauses and rhythms were not observed.

Exits and Entrances

Claudio (Brendan Groat) in the Graveyard.
Keep in mind that these are pre-show photos without
final paint or stage lighting.
The blocking was generally excellent (however, the eavesdropping scenes decidedly favored the stage right audience), and set changes came quickly. The set, though simple and stylistic, was nicely done. I particularly enjoyed the color and gobo projections on the cyc. 

The lighting of most scenes was near perfection with the exception of the more intimate locales (house, street, dressing room) which used only a pool of key light with no fill or back light. The graveyard was very nicely and subtly lit utilizing (among other things) a steely blue (fantastic color) spot on Hero's grave. (Note: Death was not "allowed" in the comedy theatre of Shakespeare's time and here he is playfully thumbing his nose at the traditionalists.) 

The simple, but effective, stylized scenic design was by Sundance Wilson Henry (the director's talented wife) who also contributed with him to the lighting design. Mrs. Henry also contributed to costumes, and the director to the sound design. No one wore body mics, and all but one actor (Dalton Hidden, occasionally) could be heard well at all times.

Sky Ring as Dogberry (pictured here in partial
costume and without makeup) gave a stunning
and entertaining performance.

The costumes were all beautifully done though not elaborate. The pre-show music and slide show was cool, as always. The production moved along well under the direction of stage manager Kali Worthley.

I often give credit to those on stage and the principle designers, but I would like to mention that a large crew of back stage personnel also contributed (as is the case with every show) to this production. Though I cannot list them all by name, they too are heroes (no pun intended) of this production.

The audience did enjoy themselves and laughed from time to time (largely at physical comedy and obvious relational jokes though they missed many). This is quite a worthy stab at the Bard's work and really something of an undertaking. I admire the talent and effort, and while not perfection, the show was quite fun.

Review by Gregory E. Zschomler
Photos, by Stephan "Cash" Henry, provided.
A second review by guest blogger Dennis Sparks can be found here: .

The show plays February 21, 22, 27, 28 and March 1, 2014 and starts at 7 p.m. sharp; doors opening at 6:30. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and students with an ASB card from Battle Ground High School. Advance tickets may be purchased here.

1 comment:

  1. Sky Ring MADE the show! I feel Shakespeare's vocal styling difficult to follow unless one is already familiar with the plot. Young students may not understand the timing and nuances, so his work is difficult for young performers. This was a very good show for the style and I applaud the effort. Again, tho, Sky Ring nailed it!!