Much Ado About Gender Bending

Best known for the clever, barbed repartee of the battling lovers Beatrice and Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing is one of the few Shakespeare comedies that doesn’t involve cross-dressing, but it certainly does in this version.


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Stacy Ross.

Courtesy of CalShakes

After 15 years with Jonathan Moscone at the helm, California Shakespeare Theater begins the reign of new artistic director Eric Ting—and ushers in the company’s 25th season—with a lively new adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing by Kenneth Lin and Jackson Gay.

Best known for the clever, barbed repartee of the battling lovers Beatrice and Benedick, Much Ado is one of the few Shakespeare comedies that doesn’t involve cross-dressing, but it certainly does in this version. Directed by Gay with some additional text by Lin, this production stars two of Cal Shakes’ most acclaimed actors Stacy Ross and James Carpenter as the two scathing wits, but Carpenter plays Beatrice and Ross portrays Benedick.

The rest of the cast is fairly evenly split between performers playing their own gender or the opposite, but together they make up a terrific assemblage of excellent local actors. Safiya Fredericks plays the falsely accused ingénue Hero, while Denmo Ibrahim is her tempestuous suitor Claudio. Patrick Alparone is the villainous Don John, with Rami Margron as both his henchman Borachio and the chambermaid with whom Borachio is sleeping. Lance Gardener plays the noble prince Don Pedro (as well as another one of the maids), and ACT mainstay Anthony Fusco is the malapropism-spouting constable Dogberry. Making her Cal Shakes debut, Gay recently completed a very different Much Ado adaptation off-Broadway, directing These Paper Bullets!, a swinging ’60s rewrite by playwright Rolin Jones with music by the Bay Area’s own Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. It’ll be interesting to see what she brings to this streamlined, gender-fluid take on the classic comedy.

Much Ado About Nothing, through June 19, Tue., Wed., Thu. 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 4 p.m.; Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda; $20-$72; 510-548-9666, or CalShakes.org.

Editor's Note: This story appears in the June edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

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