Thursday, July 22, 2010

Further Ado: Three Questions with "Much Ado" director Irene Crist

Posted By on Thu, Jul 22, 2010 at 10:38 AM

Director Irene Crist has set Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing on a lush suburban lawn and turned the show into a giddy 1960s mashup of Rowen & Martin's Laugh In, Get Smart, and Love American Style. Crist has also borrowed a trick or two from the Wes Anderson playbook and uses perfectly chosen bits of mid-20th-century pop, ranging from "California Dreamin'" to obscure gems such as Arthur Brown's "Fire" to create smooth, meaningful transitions. The best song, however, is a live performance of Shakespeare's "Sigh No More Ladies," composed and arranged by Crist's son, Bennett Foster, of the Magic Kids.

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.

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