A Time of Division
Door Shakespeare pieces together an interesting fusion this summer with a distinctly American staging of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Set during in Wisconsin during the American Civil War, the story of two rivals being brought together in love makes a fascinating reflection on an era of bloody division between the North and the South as seen through the eyes of an audience that is much more familiar with the intellectual division between the left and the right in the contemporary political landscape.
USA by Way of Shakespeare
I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a production so completely wrapped-up in the visual trapping of US patriotism before. It’s actually kind of refreshing to see something this completely immersed in star spangled red, white and blue. Costume Designer Misti Bradford and Scenic Designer Jody Sekas give the production a very stylized and iconic Civil War/Civil War-era America for the intimate outdoor stage. There’s some really overpowering stars and stripes imagery saturating the stage during the play’s masquerade scene. The ball is sharply choreographed by Isabelle Kralj, (who is no stranger to choreographing on an intimate stage in her work with Theatre Gigante.) Everyone is decked-out in red, white and blue domino masks for the scene. It’s all very visually striking, but not all of the show’s impact comes from bright primary colors. There are earth tones too...this IS Shakespeare quite firmly planted in Northeastern Wisconsin.
The premise is that soldiers from the Civil War are returning to Wisconsin...Door County Wisconsin from the battlefield. And so there’s a really interesting stylistic fusion between the setting of the play and the quaint rural rustic feel of small-town Door County. (That authentic small town feel is still there in places if you look for it in the shadow of overwhelming gravity of garish Door County tourism.)
Old Friends Onstage
The show is a pleasant throwback to Joseph Hanreddy-era Milwaukee Rep. Hanreddy directs the show with longtime Milwaukee Rep resident actress Deborah Staples playing a world-weary Beatrice. Powerful Milwaukee theater icon Mark Corkins plays Don Pedro--a man among others who conspires to bring Beatrice to love with her romantic rival Benedick...played by Staples’ husband and Next Act Producing Artistic Director David Cecsarini. It’s really fun to see the husband and wife onstage together as Benedick and Beatrice.
It’s a show in Door County, but so much of it feels like a Milwaukee theater party on a small stage in the woods in Door County. James Carrington lends an authority of conscience to the role of Father Francis, who works to uncover a conspiracy against two lovers. Milwaukee theater veteran Carrie Hitchcock lends character to the edges of the production as Ursula and the Sexton.
Of course, this IS Shakespeare and there is A LOT going on in and around the edges of the show. Todd Denning has a purity about him as Leonato, who stands wronged by accusations made against his daughter Hero. The distinctive silent expressiveness of Elyse Edelman can do amazing things for any peripheral role in Shakespeare. Here the subtle mix of emotion that fades in and out of her countenance lends power to the drama of Hero. Also making a very memorable appearance in the periphery of the action is Drew Shirley, who seems to be channeling an interesting mix of midwestern moods for a very refreshingly comic turn as the night constable Dogberry. In a performance that feels reminiscent of a young Bill Murray, Shirley plays a Dogberry funny enough to hold the attention of even my pre-school-aged daughter whenever he made it to the stage.
Door Shakespeare’s production of Much Ado About Nothing run in rotation with The Comedy of Errors through August 18th at Björklunden Lodge on 590 Boynton Lane in Baileys Harbor. For ticket requests, call 920-839-1500 or visit doorshakespeare.com. My concise, comprehensive review of the show runs in the next print edition of the Shepherd-Express.