Beatrice and Benedick are bickering again on the Civic Center's Freede Little Theatre stage.
Local actor Lane Fields, playing the verbose bachelor Benedick, rolls his eyes as he hears sharp-tongued singleton Beatrice, portrayed by Broadway leading lady and Oklahoma City native Stacey Logan, approach with an insult at the ready. He dubs her “my dear Lady Disdain”; she parries that “courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence.”
Ouch. It must be love.
Just in time for Valentine's Day, Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre is staging one of William Shakespeare's most romantic comedies, “Much Ado About Nothing.” But theatergoers who take in the production, opening Friday, won't be the only ones feeling the love: CityRep is joining professional companies worldwide in celebrating The Bard's 450th birthday.
Celebrating The Bard
Not only is “Much Ado” the first Shakespearean work CityRep has performed in its 12-year history, Donald Jordan, the company's founding artistic director, also thinks it is the first professional Actors' Equity union production of any Shakespeare play in Oklahoma in more than 40 years.
“Our community, we're very fortunate that we're very well represented in Shakespeare. We have several educational institutions ... We have several good community theaters that also do Shakespeare very well. And Shakespeare, while he is a talented guy, don't get me wrong, he hasn't written anything new in awhile,” Jordan said with a grin.
While CityRep typically focuses on bringing contemporary works, as well as some classic plays, to OKC, the company wanted to take part in the global commemoration of The Bard's birth. Dallas-based directorRene Moreno, the artistic associate at Dallas Shakespeare, is helming the Oklahoma City production of his all-time favorite play.
Although it maintains most of Shakespeare's finely crafted language, CityRep's “Much Ado” takes place in Guthrie at the turn of the 20th century and features the music of Scott Joplin and John Philip Sousa. The Bard penned the rom-com at the turn of the 17th century and set it on the island of Sicily.
“Don and I were interested in bringing an Oklahoma connection to it,” said Moreno, one of CityRep's affiliated artists whose credits include Broadway's original cast of “Amadeus” and New York Shakespeare in the Park.
“We're not doing literal history or anything like that, but just a flavor. So we're right before statehood in the early 1900s, in Guthrie, which was then the capital of the Oklahoma Territory.”
Much ado about students
During Saturday's technical rehearsals, Logan and Fields exchanged rapid-fire barbs, then broke into grins when her attempt at defiantly snapping shut a book ended with a fumble. The actors are reuniting after co-starring in CityRep's 2011 state premiere of “Next to Normal,” and the trust they've built is helping Logan through her first Shakespearean production.
“We giggle a lot. We have a lot of fun together,” said Logan, whose credits include the original Broadway casts of “Crazy for You,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Sweet Smell of Success.”
“It's good to do scary things and keep doing things that challenge you. It's very tongue-twisting. You have to be on your game. Nothing sloppy.”
An Oklahoma City University graduate, Logan relishes performing in her hometown, where her mother still lives, and she has previously starred in CityRep's productions of “August: Osage County,” “The Normal Heart” and “Bad Dates.”
“Much Ado” is a co-production of CityRep and her alma mater's TheatreOCU.
“It's wonderful to work with these students, who are very diligent and fun and know their stuff,” said Logan, now based in Connecticut and Florida. “It's so great for the university students to get an opportunity to get Equity points. They could get out of here with their union card. I had to go to New York and just get in a show to gain my union card, you know, where you're standing in line at 6 a.m. every morning and waiting, hopefully, to get a chance to audition.”
Lance Marsh, artistic director of TheatreOCU, is playing the patriarch Leonato in “Much Ado,” with one his students, Lauren Thompson, portraying his daughter, Hero, and another, Alex Enterline, making his CityRep debut as Hero's suitor Claudio. Marsh cannot count the ways the experience helps his pupils.
“Our training program is based on the idea that … students need to be able to do three things really well: They need to be able to work in front of a camera, they need to be able to sing and dance well enough to be in a musical, and they need to be able to handle classical text. There are 200 paying Shakespeare festivals in the United States,” he said. “Our theory is, if you can do Shakespeare, you can do anything. If you can handle this text, truthfully, you can handle any old play written yesterday … So to have our students get to do this work — with this company, in this moment, in this year — is incredibly special for us.”