The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater will present William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing on November 8, 9, 14, 15 and 16 at 8:00 p.m. at the Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center. Directed by Princeton Class of 2006 alumna Lileana Blain-Cruz, the production will explore the darker aspects of one of Shakespeare’s best-loved and most-produced comedies in celebration of the playwright’s 450th birthday in 2014. Special talk-back discussions are scheduled to follow the performances on November 9 and 14.
Much Ado About Nothing is considered by many as one of Shakespeare’s sharpest comedies, partly because it combines elements of great humor with more serious issues of honor and shame. The story focuses on two pairs of lovers, the more mature and quarrelsome Benedick and Beatrice, and the younger, innocent Claudio and Hero, each couple having different takes on romance. Soldiers returning from war, false accusations, a faked death, rampant eavesdropping or ‘noting’ (which is how the word ‘nothing’ was pronounced in Shakespeare’s London), and two weddings provide for a rich plot of twists and turns.
The contemporary interpretation planned by Blain-Cruz will explore the relationship between ideals of coursthip and romance and the realities of suppressed anger, frustrated sexuality, and complicated longing that all the characters wrestle with throughout the play. Exploiting the characters’ ebullient celebration of youth and love and the devastating consequences of their shame and fear, the production promises to take audiences on a roller coaster ride of emotions.
“Shakespeare’s line between tragedy and comedy is sometimes fuzzy in Much Ado,” explains Blain-Cruz. “We have the tidiness, strictness and morality of a group of military men in search of romance while they bubble internally with anxiety, sexuality and potentially rage. The production will have the feel of both a ballroom and a frat party, decadence and excess, with old traditions re-surging into terrifying new realities.”
Blain-Cruz recently received a New York Theatre Workshop 2050 Fellowship and has gained a reputation for her innovative interpretations of classical as well as new contemporary works. Recent projects include Christina Anderson’s Hollow Roots which premiered this past January in the Under the Radar Festival at the Public Theater and A Guide to Kinship and Maybe Magic, a collaboration with choreographer Isabel Lewis and playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins at Dance New Amsterdam. She recently directed a new translation of The Bakkhai at the Fisher Center of Performing Arts at Bard College and is currently working on an adaptation of the Alejandro Jodorowsky film, El Topo. Blain-Cruz is the co-founder and director of the ensemble company Overhead Projector, which devises new work. While pursuing her M.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama, she directed Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights, The Taming of the Shrew, Tall Skinny Cruel Cruel Boys, Buffalo Maine, Cavity and Fox Play as part of the Carlotta Festival of New Plays and was one of the co-artistic directors of the 2011-2012 Yale Cabaret, where she directed Funnyhouse of a Negro, Vaska Vaska Glöm, and SALOME. She was an Artistic Associate of The Exchange and The Orchard Project, a member of the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab, and an Allen Lee Hughes Directing Fellow at Arena Stage.
A 2006 alumna of Princeton, Blain-Cruz majored in English with a certificate in theater. For her senior independent project she directed a production of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf and as an undergraduate led an artistic rebirth of the student drama group, the Black Arts Company.
“Lileana exhibited great skill as a director while at Princeton as an undergrad,” notes Tim Vasen, Director of the Program in Theater. “I’ve followed her work as a director through grad school at Yale and now as an up and coming professional director. I know she will create a stunning and memorable production of Much Ado.”
The play’s setting on an Italian estate, its military men, nobles and servants, weddings and a masked ball provide rich opportunities for inventive elements for the professional production team of Maruti Evans (sets), Kristin Fiebig (costumes), Yi Zhao (lighting), and Ken Goodwin (sound). Most of the play will take place in a field of roses filling the entire Berlind Theatre stage. Music and dance will be integral to the production. Aynsley Vandenbroucke, Lecturer in the Lewis Center’s Program in Dance, will provide choreography for the production. The audition notice requested potential cast members not only to prepare a monologue from a Shakespeare play, but to also prepare to perform a pop song or ballad about the complications of love.
The ensemble cast of Princeton undergraduates includes Rachel Alter ’14, Anna Aronson ’16, Katherine Clifton ’15, Sam Gelman ’16, Evelyn Giovine ’16, Chris Littlewood ’16, Chris Murphy ’15, Olivia Nice ’14, Julia Phillips ’15, Philip Rosen ’14, Jeffrey Stapleton ’14, and Remi Yamazaki ’14. Maeli Goren ’14 serves as assistant director.
The production is itself a credited course, taught by Blain-Cruz, in which students experience the rigorous and challenging work of creating a piece of theater in collaboration with a professional director, design team, and stage manager.
Two talk-back discussions are scheduled during the run of the production. Following the Saturday, November 9, performance Blain-Cruz and Michael Cadden, Lewis Center Chair, will discuss the common themes between Much Ado About Nothing and The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Princeton professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, a book Princeton President Chris Eisgruber asked incoming freshmen to read as part of their introduction to the intellectual life of the University. Following the Thursday, November 14, performance Blain-Cruz and Cadden will offer another more general talk about the play.
The Berlind Theatre is an accessible venue. Assistive listening devices are available upon request when attending a performance and large print programs will be provided. Patrons in need of other access accommodations are invited to contact the Lewis Center at 609.258.5262 or LewisCtr-Comm@princeton.edu for assistance at least two weeks prior to the selected performance.
Tickets for Much Ado About Nothing are $15 general admission, $10 for students and seniors, and are available through the McCarter box office at 609.258.2787, through Princeton University Ticketing by calling 609.258.9220, at the Frist Campus Center Ticket Office, or at the Berlind box office on the evenings of performances. A group ticket rate of $5 is available for high school groups of five or more which can be reserved in advance by calling 609.258.6526.