By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
Its become the fashion, of sorts: Take a well-known play, set it in a different era and country, and give the public a fresh take on something they may have already seen before in the cinema.
Thats what the Baker High School Theater Department is up to with this weekends staging of William Shakespeares comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. The play opens at 7 p.m. Saturday in the BHS auditorium and continues Sunday and Monday (a school holiday) with matinees at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students and are available at the door and at Bettys Books.
Since the play is about soldiers returning home from battle, director Lynne Burroughs chose post-World War I Italy as her setting but shes populated it with returning American GIs and officers. Its apparently a force in which women also served.
It didnt really matter what war theyre returning from, she said before Thursdays dress rehearsal. I thought this might be closer to a war wed all recognize.
Also recognizable and highly enjoyable are both the costumes and the sets. Onstage youll see flappers dancing with sharp-looking guys in dark suits and fedoras. Youll see elaborate party masks (be sure to notice the one Will Schmeits, playing Benedick, dons) and, later, elegant period wedding dresses.
Youll also be blown away by a pair of components that playgoers sometimes overlook: the sets, which were painted with great detail by Terri Axness advanced art students, and the three-piece combo playing backstage, composed of Jeff and Gina Sizer and Tom Isaacson. (Its not every Shakespeare play in which youll hear the Carpenters Close to You and Rogers and Hammersteins The Surrey With the Fringe on the Top)
Much Ado About Nothing is a play about mistaken identity and the trouble that people heap upon themselves when theyre dishonest. If for no other reason, the cast is to be commended simply for being able to recite giant gobs of Shakespearean poetry that, while undeniably beautiful, dont readily resonate in the modern ear.
Following the action
A brief synopsis, to help you stay on top of the wild action:
Don Pedro (played by Steven Flavin) pays a visit to Leonato (Brett Chapman) while returning from a victorious campaign against, in this production, his sister, Don Juana (deliciously portrayed by Shannon Russell-Hasel). With him are two of his officers, Benedick (Schmeits) and Claudio (Max Bulinski-Button). Claudio has fallen for Leonatos daughter, Hero (Anna Mezger-Seig), and although Benedick spends most of the play sparring with Beatrice (Arly Goodyear), you just know how thats going to turn out.
With a whole lot of nefarious arranging, Benedick and Beatrice think that the other has professed great love for them.
Meanwhile, the villainous Don Juana enlists the aid of a henchman named Borachio (Gordon Alanko) and partner Conrad (Lily Shipsey) to stage an encounter that will bring Heros virtue into question.
Claudio falls for the ruse and denounces Hero at the altar, but Friar Francis (Corey Nielsen) hides her away and enlists the aid of Leonato, who announces (its a ruse, of course) that his daughter has died of grief from the proceeding.
Fortunately for Hero, Borachio is arrested while drunkenly boasting of his part in the plan. Its here that Constable Dogbery (Kenyon Damschen) gets to shine with his bizarre malapropisms. Notice both his headgear and his chosen mode of transportation.
By the end, Hero and Claudio are reunited, Benedick and Beatrice are to be wed alongside them, and Don Juana is hauled away to her well-deserved prison cell.
Many kudos are due to this group, beginning with Burroughs and assistant director Emily Short. Hats off, too, to the shows brave singers, Todd Payton and Lindy Morgan, and to Schmeits, who also gets to sing a lick.
What did the Bard have in mind?
Burroughs says that the play is about both deception and redemption.
Weve all been deceived at one time or another either by others, or, more often, by ourselves, she writes in the program. This play is about what deception can do to relationships. We see the characters are fallible, foolable and silly in many ways, yet very noble and forgiving in some others.
We all ought to be able to relate to that. I am proud that these young actors are so well able to present these wonderful characters.