As far as battles of the sexes go, Shakespeare's Beatrice and Benedick have no equal in the theater world.
You could even say that their fast-talking banter was the inspiration for the screwball comedy films of the 1930s. So it's fitting that Pacific Repertory Theatre's artistic director, Kenneth Kelleher, chose to set his version of "Much Ado About Nothing" in the '30s.
With a tributary nod to the screwball comedies of this era, PacRep continues its annual Carmel Shake-speare Festival with "Much Ado About Nothing," opening Saturday night at the outdoor Forest Theatre in Carmel. There will be one discount preview Friday night.
Directed by Kelleher, the show features Equity actors Remi Sandri and Michael Wiles, as well as PacRep residentactressJulie Hughett.
Other performers include Dan Petzold, Deyki Ronge, Tim Hart, Stephen Massott, Will Brown, Scott McQuiston, Tara Lucido Drew Anderson andSam Fife.
In what is often considered Shakespeare's greatest romantic comedy, "MuchAdoAbout Nothing" combines comedy, tragedyandtrickery when the marriage plans of Claudio and Hero are manipulated by the villainous Don John.
Meanwhile, the endless witty sparring of reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick threatens to keep them away from the marriage altar forever.
While these star-crossed lovers search for true love, Shakespeare reminds us of the failings and triumphs of the human condition.
"I'm enamored with movies from the 1930s, especially
"Screwball comedies really owe their existence to plays like 'Much Ado About Nothing,'" he said. "I like that world. I wanted to play with that world, so I set it in (the 1930s)."
The costumes will be period costumes of course, and the music includes standards by Cole Porter — which Kelleher said that he chose because the music is "romantic, sophisticated, funny, sardonic and witty. It meets all the elements of 'Much Ado About Nothing.'"
But besides the period music, costumes and set, "Much Ado" in its essence shares a thematic underpinning with its descendants in the screwball genre.
"If you look at the elements of screwball comedy films from the '30s, they contain witty, sophisticated people, usually together at a country house for a weekend or long week with nothing to do but fall in love," Kelleher said. "It's not real, it's a fantasy. It's the fantasy of the 1930s. All these elements are there in 'Much Ado.'"
In addition, both screwball comedy films and "Much Ado" have hints of a more sobering reality that lies beneath the veneer of fantasy, said Kelleher.
"'Much Ado' starts with a farce and ends with a farce," he explained, "but in the middle there is seriousness. The 1930s was a time of great wealth but also of poverty and suffering. Screwball comedies have dark elements as well."
When asked about his experience of playing in the role of a 1930s-era Benedick, Sandri said, "The soul of Benedick is the soul of Benedick. He's an archetype in some ways — the archetype of a guy who's never going to get married but falls in love anyway. Whether in Shakespeare's time, the 1930s or now, that archetype still exists."
And that's ultimately why Sandri, who's played in more than 20 Shakespeare productions, loves Shakespeare's work so much.
"Shakespeare can be set in any time period because the language is still true, the language still makes us laugh," he explained. "You can play him in any era because he has something to say about the human condition that never changes."
Lily Dayton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. GO!
What: Pacific Repertory Theatre presents "Much Ado About Nothing"
Where: Outdoor Forest Theatre at Mountain View Avenue and Santa Rita Street, Carmel
When: Discount preview at 7:30p.m. Friday, Sept. 28; opens at 7:30p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29; continues at 7:30p.m. Fri-Sun through Oct. 14
Tickets: $16-$35, with discounts for seniors, students, children, teachers and active military; available at the Golden Bough Box Office, Monte Verde between Eighth and Ninth avenues in Carmel (open Tues-Sat, 11 a.m.-4p.m.); also available by calling 622-0100 or online at www.pacrep.org
Information: 622-0100 or www.pacrep.org