Technically speaking, they're supporting characters -- in the dramatic scheme of the play, they don't really advance the plot, they just provide a comic-relief subplot from the far duller story of the troubled courtship of Claudio and Hero. Yet their comical romance is what has made the play immortal. In the early 1630s, King Charles I crossed out the title Much Ado About Nothing in his copy of Shakespeare's Second Folio, and simply wrote in their names -- "Benedik [sic] and Beatrice."
The two are tricked by their mutual friends into falling in love with each other -- or, rather, into admitting that they were in love all along -- through conversations about each's desperate passion that are staged for the other to overhear. The "main" plot carries a grimmer potential, with Beatrice's virginal cousin Hero getting her honor slandered by the evil Don John, and thus being rejected by her gullible fiancé Claudio.
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Though Much Ado was produced at least twice in the Valley during the Shakespeare-heavy theater season just past, Wes Martin, artistic director of the west side's Shakespeare Theatre, recognizes Benedick and Beatrice's power to captivate playgoers. He's decided to kick off the company's third season by turning Bea and Ben loose once again, to engage in their "merry war" of witty banter. Martin himself plays Benedick in the upcoming production, directed by Richard Hardt; Mary McGary takes on Beatrice.
Opening performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday, August 3; 8 p.m. Friday, August 4; 8 p.m. Saturday, August 5; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, August 6, in Cactus High School Auditorium, 6330 West Greenway Road in Glendale. Tickets, available at the door, are $10 and $12, with discounts for seniors and military; $5 for students with ID. The run continues through Sunday, August 20. For details call 602-272-0931.
The other two shows on this year's slate for the Shakespeare Theatre are Henry V (January 4 through January 21); and Othello (June 7 through June 24). Alas, the production of the too-infrequently-staged King John, originally planned for the midseason slot, has been postponed for economic reasons.
If the Shakespeare Theatre's attempt at Much Ado isn't enough to sate a summertime taste for Shakespeare, you may wish to consider a northward road trip. The Utah Shakespeare Festival continues through Saturday, September 2. Along with such non-Shakespearean selections as Always . . . Patsy Cline, Peter Pan, Driving Miss Daisy and Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, this summer's repertory of shows includes The Merchant of Venice and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Most intriguingly, for Shakespeare geeks, however, is War of the Roses, a conflation into a single evening of the three rarely produced Henry VI plays, Shakespeare's sprawling saga of the clash between the houses of York and Lancaster. For details call 1-800-752-9849 (1-800-PLAYTIX).