1. People who "very serious" about Shakespeare and only speak his name in hushed and reverent tones should probably stay the hell away. This show is so light, unpretentious and easy to follow that within the first five minutes you'll have forgotten you're watching a 400-year-old classic. In recent years Memphis audiences have been treated to more then their fair share of sketchy high-concept Shakespeare. We've seen a perfectly ambulatory Juliet stuck in a wheelchair, and a Sci-Fi Julius Caesar set in a world where men don't seem to have ever existed. True, this Much Ado is set in the 1960's. But the choice, while strong and committed, is relatively superficial, providing a logical context for Shakespeare's surprisingly modern romantic comedy. This Much Ado hasn't been transformed into a big anti-war statement. Nor is it a celebration of free love and hippie culture. In fact it's not a statement or celebration of any kind. It's a simple, deliciously straightforward presentation of Shakespeare's frothiest play with a handful of exciting contemporary flourishes. It's a show that speaks to all ages but it will be especially fun for those among us who are old enough to remember 60's-era TV shows like Laugh-In, Get Smart.
2. The cast knows they've made something special and they are having a blast sharing it with audiences. The real life husband and wife team of John and Mary Buchignani Hemphill are thoroughly delightful as the warring would-be lovers Beatrice and Benedick. But this is an ensemble show and the hilarious (and entirely unexpected) love story that develops between John Rone's Dogberry and Lindsey Roberts' Verges is every bit as intriguing.
3. The music makes it. Some of it is bubble-headed pop and some of it is maybe a little too obvious. But it's all thoughtfully chosen and after audiences are treated to Bennett Foster's Brian Wilson/Turtles-take on the sonnet "Sigh No More Ladies" they might also leave with the impression that Shakespeare actually wrote "Bend Me Shape Me." It really is a perfect ending to a sweetly memorable show that deserves an even longer life.
Intermission Impossible: Did you always want to be a scenic designer?
Christopher McCollum: Yes, at least from the time I was about 15 or 16. I’ve been very blessed to have a family that always encouraged and supported me in a career path that is less than “mainstream”.
Complete this sentence: Every good set has at least one...
Nice. Will you be outdoing yourself next season? What's the one set everyone should look out for?
Hopefully outdoing but not overdoing. As far as what to look out for, there are so many exciting projects that it is like picking the proverbial “favorite child”. That said, I think one of the projects that I and the rest of the production staff are most excited about is a new set design for A CHRISTMAS CAROL. After 32 great years we wanted to create a fresh look for this classic that will serve us and our patrons for many years to come. The bed does not change but everything else about the set will be new. It remains most certainly a period piece, but hopefully one that has a flow and atmosphere that is slightly more theatrical and contemporary.
Here's what Crist has to say about the show, which is at Theatre Memphis through August 1st
Intermission Impossible: Music is a big part of this show, and it's all very thoughtfully chosen. Was there a lot of trial and error or did you know what you wanted?
Irene Crist: John Hemphill [who plays Benedick] was the sound designer and we collaborated with the music choices. Lots of texting and listening and texting some more. I am "of the era" so several of the songs were mandatory, from my perspective. John had some wonderful ideas, and even the pre-show and intermission music are carefully selected. Pre-show music is anti-love, intermission is pro-love.
Turning the party sequence into a Laugh In segment works beautifully. How did that come about?
I knew we wanted a 60's party with unusual masks and that each vignette was a kind of joke. John was mowing the lawn one day and Laugh In came to him. Would love to claim it, but it is his. Lots of collaboration in this show. I would say that just about everyone in the cast and crew made a major contribution to what you saw on stage, besides the parts they played.
What compelled you to take on the original independent production of Much Ado? A labor of love?
Actually, backstage during Orson's Shadow, we were shooting the breeze about parts we loved that had passed us by. Mary [Buchignani Hemphill] said she would love to play Beatrice but she felt she was too old now. I have always thought Beatrice and Benedick should be older, and I shared my thoughts with Mary. John decided to shop the idea of them playing Beatrice and Benedick with me directing, and Bartlett Community Theatre was interested and willing. I do love the play. There is high comedy, low comedy and drama. The journey of Beatrice is fascinating to me. Much Ado has two major couples, and I added a third (Dogberry and Verges.) These three couples all love each other and they are totally different kinds of love. So yes, it was a labor of "love" on many levels.
UPDATE: Due to a scheduling conflict this event has been moved to July 28.
2010 has been a big year for Ballet Memphis. Here's what they have on tap for next season.
I worked at a health food restaurant during the height of the 80's/90's-era New Age "rebirthing" craze so almost any discussion of birth that doesn't involve at least one infant gives me a small anxiety attack. But Lisa Wilson's Birthing the Crone sounds like it might actually be an interesting performance.
The second week of the [SoloWorks] series welcomes LISA WILSON. Lisa is a performer, professor, writer, director, and Chair of the Theater Department at the University of Tulsa. Her unflinchingly honest show, Birthing the Cone, explores a woman approaching the third phase of her life, including the onset of menopause. Birthing the Crone was a huge hit at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, and now graces the TheatreWorks stage. Lisa uses humor and honesty about the challenges in her own life to explore this new and often frightening phase of life.
My cover story about Memphis, Million Dollar Quartet, Sister Myotis's Bible Camp, and Katori Hall is now online.
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