Mar. 7, 2007

RSU to Present Shakespeare's ‘Much Ado' Set in Oklahoma Territory

Elizabethan English will take its place alongside the colorful colloquialisms of the Oklahoma Territory in the upcoming Rogers State University production of “Wild Bill” Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing!” on March 29-31.

The RSU production, with its flourishes of the American West, is being presented in commemoration of the Oklahoma Centennial.

“The inspiration for the production comes from the music, places, people and history of the Oklahoma Territory,” said Dr. Gregory Thompson, RSU assistant humanities professor. “We are setting the play in the fictional settlement of Messina, Okla., in the late 1890s, just after the land rush and before statehood.”

First produced in the late sixteenth century, “Much Ado About Nothing” is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies. In the play, Shakespeare satirizes the popular romantic comedy of his day and focuses on the witty banter of two “older” lovers Beatrice and Benedick. Those characters became so well loved that in some circles the play became known simply as “Beatrice and Benedick,” Thompson says.

In the play, all is not as it should be in the quiet town of Messina. Reputations are in ruin, lovers are at odds and a young maiden is dead, and all for the matter of a hundred dollars. The local sheriff and his bumbling band of deputies aren’t much help since the Sheriff can’t get past his own malapropisms and the deputies can hardly stay awake. In addition, the two people who seem to have the most verbal venom for each other have been tricked into believing that each loves the other. The reality is that it’s a case of “he-said-she-said,” “someone-overheard-a-misrepresented-rumor” and a cruel joke from a jilted step-sister, according to Thompson.

“Our characters are a mixed bunch of settler families, cavalry soldiers, townsfolk, and even a few ladies of questionable reputation. We’ve kept much of the “thou” and “thine” of Old English but we’ve also added quite a few “yee-haws” and a “y’all” or two,” Thompson said.

Aunt Leonato is the head of the Messina household that includes her young daughter Hero and feisty niece Beatrice. Colonel Pedro, Lieutenant Claudio (a young Seminole), Corporal Benedick, other soldiers and few female “war profiteers” are passing through Messina having just returned from war. Claudio expresses his interest in Hero and the fun begins, Thompson says. From here on out, someone misunderstands something or someone else intentionally misinforms someone else and the race is on.

This production of “Much Ado” marks the first of what Thompson hopes will be an annual Shakespeare event at RSU in the spring titled “Shakespeare’s Undiscovered Country.” His goal is to explore new and innovative ways to stage Shakespeare that remains true to the text but is easily accessible to 21st century actors and audience members.

Thompson joined the RSU faculty in 2006. His teaching and research interests include theatre and film history, consumer culture, the works of Shakespeare and the connection of theatre and religion in popular culture. Before joining the RSU faculty, Thompson taught theatre, English and humanities courses at Florida State University, New York University and Florida Community College in Jacksonville. He received a doctoral degree in interdisciplinary humanities from Florida State University and master’s and bachelor’s degrees from the University of South Florida.

Performances of “Much Ado” will be held at 7:07 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 29-31, in the Will Rogers Auditorium on the RSU campus in Claremore. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for senior citizens and free for all RSU students and faculty members, as well as for students from all high schools with a valid school identification card. For more information, call (918) 343-7659.