Although I’ve seen productions at various theatre companies and enjoyed several film versions (Emma Thompson, anyone?), this is a Shakespeare play I have never before been in — or involved with — directly. How exciting! What articulate woman doesn’t feel some affinity for the witty, passionate, vulnerable yet joyful Beatrice? Who doesn’t delight in the verbal sparring and chemistry of this more mature, more socially savvy Kate and Petruchio? Throw in some misdirection, a couple of bumbling cops, and a literal bastard as unapologetic as Aaron the Moor, and you’ve got a very strong domestic comedy.
But where is the magic? As the daughter of a director whose office drawers are filled with different kinds of glitter, I’m drawn to plays and stories that transcend the ordinary. I want to be engaged by something I don’t experience every day, surprised and moved when I recognize the universal human truth, then inspired by the exploration of — and maybe solution to – the central question. Much of that will (hopefully) be found through collaboration with the actors but so far the magic of this play seems to lie in the power of self-determination; people trying to sculpt, reject, or discover who they are. That focus lead my design team and me to set this production in 1840’s Texas. A time just after the Mexican American war (giving our boys a conflict to return from), a place with relaxed enough gender rules (enabling Beatrice to be desirably fun instead of embarrassingly shrewish, as well as some fun casting options for gender-flipping), and so many colorful groups of different people looking to seize and build a new life/identity.
Sound engaging? It does to me! For a taste, you can check out some of my and my team’s inspirational images or glance over my 1840’s Texas character breakdown below. Would love to hear your thoughts or stories of other productions!
Leonato — An open-minded patriarch whose fruitful ventures in the West have made his family comfortable and happy
Don Pedro — Of aristocratic Spanish descent but loves his new country and the frontier army he leads
Don John — Haughty in his loyalty to Spanish heritage, he has nevertheless become an expert at exploiting the lax laws of this new society
Benedick — A rakish man of the land who enjoys the fraternity, if not always the structure, of the cavalry
Claudio — A young cavalry officer with hot blood and aspirations to Eastern refinement
Borachio — Unlike his employer, Borachio made sure he wound up on the right side of the war . . . but his timing will never endear him to the officers, a slipperiness of character often overlooked by the ladies.
Balthasar – Leonato’s faithful ranch hand with a surprising gift for culture and eye for beauty (needs to play an instrument)
Dogberry — Heard far too many Western legends and now fancies himself the deadliest and most seasoned cowboy ever to tame the wrong-doings of the wildest outpost
Friar Francis/Seacoal — A missionary of infinite patience / A silver prospector who lost the trail and found the bottle
Verges/Messenger — An adoring and loyal citizen intent on honoring the title of “Deputy” with both his intelligent thoughts / a young Ensign in Don Pedro’s army
Antonia — A woman strong-willed enough to pack up and head West with her brother, she is infatuated with the Spanish Texas society she missed by several years.
Beatrice — Blessed to now be in the perfect part of the world for her to blossom, she is as delightful as she is savvy . . . in spite of her hardships back East
Hero — Raised very conventionally in the East but thrilled with the adventure of her new life
Ursula — Bookish and efficient, used to taking on the settlement’s responsibilities whenever reading and writing are required
Margaret — Local girl who has been happy to capitalize on the male to female ratio in this part of the world
Conrade — Dangerous and useful, knows how to live off the land and those who inhabit it