Entertainment Local

Bard brings the heat with summer of Shakespeare

By Brian Paterson

Kevin MacDonald as Benedick, and Amber Lewis as Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing, part of Bard on the Beach. (David and Emily Cooper Photo)

Kevin MacDonald as Benedick, and Amber Lewis as Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing, part of Bard on the Beach. (David and Emily Cooper Photo)

This past week, signs of summer finally returned to the city. The sun was shining, patios were packed, and — perhaps most importantly — Bard on the Beach returned to Vanier Park.

From now until the end of September, the company will be partying like it’s 1599 as its signature red and white tents play host to four plays from across William Shakespeare’s career, as well as a complementary work from a local playwright.

Here’s a quick glimpse at what theatre-lovers can look forward to:

Much Ado About Nothing

Kicking off the season on the BMO Mainstage is a wickedly witty comedy of combative courtship and affection gone awry. One of Shakespeare’s most popular plays and arguably the original rom-com.

The story of Much Ado About Nothing follows a pair of would-be couples: Beatrice and Benedick, whose vicious verbal sparring obscures deep-seated attraction; and Claudio and Hero, whose journey to nuptial bliss is derailed by deceitful interlopers.

For this summer’s staging, director John Murphy has transported the romantic romp to a 1950s Italian film set. The chic locale should offer ample amusement and style galore as the ensemble of movie stars, paparazzi, and filmmakers fumble, flirt and fight their way to a happy ending.

The Winter’s Tale

Written late in the Bard’s life, this tale of magic and mercy explores some darker and subtler tones of the human experience. Like Much Ado, its action is ignited by jealously and perceived infidelity. Unlike Claudio and Hero however, the road to redemption in this play is long and winding.

Believing his wife to be unfaithful, King Leontes orders her imprisonment and the abandonment of her newborn child. This rage sets off a series of events that will take 16 years to come to fruition.

The ultimate resolution is brought about only through the combined and coincidental actions of a prophetic oracle, humble shepherd, conniving peddler, and prodigal offspring, as well the greatest stage direction of all time: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Speaking of animals, this season features one of the greatest scene-stealers in all of Shakespeare: a dog. This summer, an East Vancouver Basset Hound by the name of Gertie has been cast in the role of Crab, with audience-favourite Andrew Cowden competing for attention as the clownish owner, Launce.

Two Gentlemen of Verona was written in Shakespeare’s earliest days (some even argue it to be his first play) and offers an interesting balance to the late-career The Winter’s Tale.

The fast-paced play contains many themes and elements that would become emblematic of later comedies, including a heroine dressing as a boy and a two pairs of lovers as central protagonists.

The Merchant of Venice

Sharing the intimate Douglas Campbell Theatre with Two Gentlemen of Vernona is Shakespeare’s complex drama of commerce and conflict: The Merchant of Venice.

The play is renowned for its climactic courtroom scene (think of it as proto-Grisham), which features two of the Bard’s most iconic speeches: Shylock’s “Hath not a Jew eyes?” and Portia’s “The quality of mercy is not strained.”

While most of Shakespeare’s canon can be described as timeless, The Merchant of Venice embodies this in a more challenging manner: the abuse suffered by the Jewish moneylender Shylock is a reminder that such intolerance remains prevalent more than 400 years later.

To illuminate, and comment on, the consequences of how we treat outsiders, director Nigel Shawn Williams will give the work a present-day setting.

Shylock

For a limited run in September, actor Warren Kimmel — who also plays Shylock in The Merchant of Venice — will take to the stage in playwright Mark Leiren-Young’s acclaimed one-man show. The piece takes the form of a fictional, post-show talkback with a Jewish actor who has been condemned by his community for taking on the role of Shylock.

The play promises to be a thought-provoking companion piece and fascinating standalone vantage on many of the controversial issues at play in The Merchant of Venice.

Bard on the Beach runs until Sept. 23 in Vanier Park. For more information visit www.bardonthebeach.org.