Another in the long list of theatrical styles Shakespeare is credited/blamed for creating, could be the screwball comedy -- a staple of 1930s comedies in which a light story would be filled with helium and zaniness so it could float throughout an evening of entertainment.
Hold that standard up to The Bard's 14th century "Much Ado About Nothing," which opens Friday at the Livermore Shakespeare Festival on the Concannon Vineyards, and you readily see that it's a show that won him his solid gold whoopee cushion. It is a show bursting with mixed identity, deception, outright lies, mistaken identities and the sort of happy ending that would make a '30s prank-master chuckle enviously.
It also blends take-no-prisoners hilarity with some serious observations on the human condition and the politics of the royal court. And it all starts on a ship, where Spanish prince Don Pedro has sent his messenger on shore at Messina to tell the governor there, Leonato, that he and his officers, Claudio and Benedick will celebrate their victory in battle with an extended visit to the Messina area.
That's the signal for the battle to begin for Beatrice, who cracks about Benedick's abilities as a soldier and says other things to belittle him. It is also the first shot in a battle of wits, on an ocean of romance, which not only sets the tone for the rest of the play, but created the style of verbal sparring between lovers.
And its appeal goes beyond the play itself -- the verbal sparring of its witty lovers inspired an entire genre of comedy, from "Much Ado" itself down through 17th century Restoration comedy to 18th and 19th century comedies of manners and 20th century screwball comedies.
As a result, "Much Ado" has a familiar feel to it as it moves headlong into its own wild world, where it has been set against the background of the wine-growing Sicilian seaport of Messina wineries -- fitting because of the festival's setting in Concannon Vineyards.
The time period of the show has also been moved to 1860 by director Lisa Tromovitch, which gives her the chance for the show to also have a background of the Giuseppe Garibaldi-led Campaign of 1860. This will also let Don Pedro's army wear the flashy "red shirt" uniforms seen in the campaign that eventually led to the unification of Italy.
"Much Ado" plays with "Pride and Prejudice" in this year's festival, which has been subtitled, "Festival of Feisty Lovers."
This will be the festival's last season at Concannon. Next year it moves to a new location, either Wente Bros. Winery or Las Positas College, both in Livermore.
Tickets are available for both shows and can be reserved at 925-443-2273 or www.livermoreshakes.org. Tickets cost $25 for previews June 19 and July 12. Tickets are $44 and $41 for Friday and $46 and $43 for Sunday shows. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m. at Concannon Vineyards, 4590 Tesla Road in Livermore.
Performances of Shakespeare's "Much Ado," are scheduled for June 19-22, 27-29 and July 3, 5 and 6. Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" performances are set for July 10-13 and 18-20.
Since weather outdoors, even during summer, can be iffy at the winery, audience members have been encouraged to dress in layers and consider bringing, renting or buying blankets for comfort.
"A LITTLE SENTIMENTAL: THE CLASSIC NASHVILLE SOUND," is a solo show with Nashville performer Makky Kaylor. Backed by a trio of musicians, he takes audiences on a sentimental journey to the time country music was "cool, smooth, classy and king."
The one-night-only show June 19 features Kaylor singing the songs of Ray Price, Ray Charles, Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline and Marty Robbins, plus some of his own.
Designed to honor the classic Nashville Sound of the '50s and '60s, Kaylor uses a "slightly sophisticated" sound to present country music "with a fresh coat of paint."
Kaylor's show begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Village Theatre, 233 Front St. in Danville. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door and can be reserved at 925-314-3400 or www.villagetheatreshows.com.
Contact Pat Craig at email@example.com.