2017-02-16 / On the Town
Shakespeare comedy: love is in the air
One of William Shakespeare’s best-regarded comedies, “Much Ado About Nothing,” made its debut earlier this month at Camarillo Skyway Playhouse in a production directed by local actress/producer Vivien Latham.
The London-born Latham, a cousin of the late Oscar-winning director Sir Richard Attenborough, has been producing and performing plays in the county since moving to Ventura in 2002. She is only too happy to be directing a work by her favorite playwright.
“Shakespeare has always been there in my life,” she told the Acorn in a recent phone interview. “My mother started teaching me how to read when I was 2, and by the time I was 6, I was a pretty advanced reader. Shakespeare is my favorite playwright. I’ve always loved the language and the fact that anybody can relate to his stories.”
Latham has done “quite a bit” of Shakespeare locally, working with the Ojai Shakespeare Festival and Michael Jordan’s Classics in the Park troupe. She’s been pestering the folks at Camarillo Skyway Playhouse to present one of the Bard’s classics and quickly said yes when co-producer Jolyn Johnson asked her to direct “Much Ado,” a tale about two intertwining love stories.
Shakespeare penned the play in the late 1500s and set the action in Italy. Latham is shaking things up a bit, changing the time period to the early 1800s, when the Regency era was beginning to flower in Great Britain. It was a time of elegant architecture, high fashion and sophisticated literature.
“It’s still set in Italy,” Latham explained, “but takes place around 1805 or 1810. I love this era because Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors and if you’ve read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ you’ll notice some striking parallels in the characters. It’s really more of a dramedy than a comedy. There’s no slapstick like in some of Shakespeare’s other comedies. There are some very serious elements to it.”
A central character in “Much Ado About Nothing” is the outspoken Beatrice. Latham, a self-described feminist and proud liberal, considers Beatrice to be one of Shakespeare’s most admirable characters.
“Beatrice is an extremely bright, intelligent and witty woman,” said Latham, who played the part in a 2010 production at Oxnard’s Petit Playhouse. “ She’s like Katherine from ‘Taming of the Shrew’ without the shrewishness. It was a rarity in Shakespeare’s time to present women as smart, forthright and independent.”
Bill Walthall is assisting Latham as she directs “Much Ado About Nothing.” Not only is he the production’s dramaturge, but he’s playing the role of Antonio.
“Bill is a godsend,” Latham said. “He studied and taught Shakespeare for years, so after the auditions, we sat down and went over the play, page by page, scene by scene, and did some cutting and pasting, tidied up the language, and took out phrases and jokes that were either redundant or were things that today’s audiences wouldn’t get. I think he did a wonderful job.”
Latham is delighted with her “Much Ado” cast, which includes Shane Bingham as Benedict, Genevieve Levin as Beatrice, Dawn Notagiacomo as Hero and David White as Claudio.
“With Shakespeare, you have to have good actors, people who really understand the language and have a feel for it,” she said. “(They also need) the acting chops to make the characters come alive and not just read pretty words. That can get boring and when that happens, it’s dull as toast.”
“Much Ado About Nothing” runs through March 5 at Camarillo Skyway Playhouse, 330 Skyway Drive. For tickets, call (805) 388-5716 or visit www.skywayplayhouse.org.