One of Shakespeare's most popular comedies about pretty much nothing at all, with the exception of love, hate and relationships, will be performed by the professional ensemble of Hoboken's Actors Shakespeare Company (ASC) this month at the DeBaun Auditorium at Stevens Institute of Technology.
Much Ado About Nothing is the company's opener for the fall season. Set in Sicily, Italy, the play is about the obstacles a couple has to overcome to be together. It deals with love, jealousy, arrogance and complacency.
Leading the way this year and taking center stage will be Colette Rice, ASC's longtime artistic director. In addition to her production duties, she will play "Beatrice" opposite actor Brian McFadden, who will play the complex protagonist "Benedick."
"It catches you by surprise. Like all of Shakespeare's best works it has a lot of comedy and tragic elements," Rice said last week. "We have a good time in this play. Much Ado is a play that is extremely hopeful."
ASC's trademark is their preservation of the original Elizabethan language during a play's performance. Formed in September 2000, ASC produces Shakespearean plays as close as possible to the author's original productions, which were often held at England's Globe Theater in the 16th century. Shakespeare's notations in the "First Folio" editions, as historians call the first printed manuscripts recorded in 1623 expressing the author's original intent, are part of the text used by the company, according to Rice.
"Presenting plays as Shakespeare would have wanted it is actually becoming a counter-revolution of sorts," Rice said. "Presentations work best in the original style, though the popular thing to do is 'modernize' the production. The difference is in the relationship between the actor and the audience, and the actor and the words."
Rice added, "ASC is a professional repertory ensemble dedicated to presenting the works of Shakespeare in the manner for which they were written. Through a unique exploration of Shakespeare's own texts, ASC actors train and perform in a style that combines authentic Elizabethan performances with the best in contemporary acting."
To promote ASC and to continue learning about Shakespeare, Rice spent time at the Globe Theater in England this summer where she studied language and acting with world-renowned Shakespearean actors. The Globe is known to the world as Shakespeare's theatrical home.
"Thinking of The Globe as the 'mother-ship,' it was good to touch base and fine-tune my knowledge of Shakespearean techniques directly from such masters of the craft as Mark Rylance and those leading the Shakespeare's Globe experiment," Rice said.
To the modern ear, Elizabethan English has obscured Shakespeare's inventiveness. However, Shakespeare coined such phrases as having "too much of a good thing," "clearing out your bag," and calling someone "the devil incarnate," a "laughing stock," and a "blinking idiot," said Rice.
The youngest player in the ASC is Max Kelly. At 14, he will play the role of "the boy" in Much Ado About Nothing.
For the role, Kelly trained with classical Shakespearean actors and is learning diction, stage presence, language techniques and method acting. After seven years of acting, Kelly is confident about his skills and prepared to accept bigger stage roles.
"I really love Shakespeare and the response from the audience to his work," Kelly said. "There's magic involved when you do Shakespeare. You connect with the people."
Born and raised in Hoboken, Kelly was very active in the drama program at the private Mustard Seed School, from which he graduated in June. Already, his acting credits with the Shakespeare Company include a small role in Midsummer Night's Dream in October of last year, and Merry Wives of Windsor in June of this year. He played the role of William Page.
"Preparing for the character was tough because I needed to really look at the text and find his motivation and background," Kelly said. "I really need to know the characters I play so I can be prepared for the show."
Kelly has also been part of the DeBaun Family Theater Series at the Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Stevens Institute of Technology. He has appeared in the productions of The Wizard of Oz, Children of Eden, Jack and the Beanstalk, and the Sound of Music.
Much Ado About Nothing will be performed on Sept. 13-15 and Sept. 20-22 at the DeBaun Auditorium at Stevens Institute of Technology on the corner of Fifth and Hudson streets in Hoboken. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students and seniors. For directions or box office information call (201) 216-8937 or visit www.debaun.org.
Next year, ASC will present productions of The Three Musketeers and Romeo and Juliet. q