A veteran former editor and current freelance journalist delivers a swift story about being imbedded with a summer outdoor theater company mounting a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
Former Chicago Reader chief editorial executive Lenehan generally copes well with a dilemma facing a writer of such a text: how much should I assume readers already know about the Bard? The text? Producing a play? He seems to have decided that his readers already know a bit, so he offers a list of characters, keeps reminding of us of the plot of Shakespeare’s dark early comedy, and quotes passages and lines (sometimes more than once). He spent the summer of 2014 with the American Players Theatre in tiny Spring Green, Wisconsin, about 35 miles west of Madison. APT is a repertory company, so other productions were going on—Lenehan alludes to them periodically—but Much Ado is the cynosure. The author introduces us to the players, the director, and the technical personnel, sometimes giving us fairly detailed back stories, and he shows us with rare clarity how a professional company prepares a production. He chronicles his interviews with people responsible for costumes, wigs, lighting, sets, and so on, and he records the evolution of the show and marvels at the attention the director pays to the text—how he shapes the show to make sure all of its components contribute to the audience’s understanding and pleasure. Occasionally, Lenehan alludes to the films of the play by Kenneth Branagh (1993) and Joss Whedon (2012) and to some filmed stage productions, but for the most part, it’s the APT that commands his interest and, eventually, ours. Tension mounts as opening night advances—and as the rain clouds swoop in, drenching all, delaying the start. But not for long.
A series of bright, clear photographs of what the author saw when he pulled aside the curtain in a Wisconsin Oz.