REED MEMORIAL PARK — Santa Monica Shakespeare is wrapping up its production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” with four final performances scheduled through the end of the week.
The play will take place at Reed Memorial Park on Tournament Tennis Court No. 1 each night at 8 p.m.
Bridget Flannery, who channels one of the female leads Beatrice in “Much Ado,” admits that she was apprehensive about taking part in a play with an unconventional set.
“I’ve done enough Shakespeare to know the material is good, but the setting made me pause for thought,” the Yale School of Drama graduate said.
However, the lively, upbeat take the directors chose for the play was enough to make Flannery admit that the location, surprisingly, serves the play well.
Vincent Cardinale, the play’s director, has used the tennis courts to his advantage, turning the ubiquitous tennis balls into props that liven several dance numbers, including a techno dance sequence, throughout the play, according to Flannery.
“With the response I’ve gotten from family and friends I see everyone finds it delightful and refreshing,” she said.
This overwhelmingly positive audience response has perhaps appeased Flannery’s anxiety regarding the three dance sequences she’s had to participate in these past couple weeks of production.
“When we first started rehearsing I would lie awake at night wondering, ‘How am I going to do this?’” Flannery said.
Producers and directors have cut a hefty chunk out of the play, making the final show 1 hour and 40 minutes, sans intermission. They’ve redirected the play, slighting the focus toward Benedick, played by Santa Monica Shakespeare’s Artistic Director John Farmanesh-Bocca.
Farmanesh-Bocca was a founding member of Santa Monica Shakespeare, serving as artistic director since its inception in 2004.
He, along with a handful of colleagues, decided to form Santa Monica Shakespeare as a summer outlet and means to perfect their craft. The company is completely run by volunteers, and tickets are sold on a pay-what-you-can basis.
Farmanesh-Bocca is a New York University graduate and has attended Juliard. He currently teaches drama. Every year, for two to three weeks in the summer, he flies in his mentors, Louis Scheeder, associate dean of faculty at NYU, and Jean-Louis Rodrique, chair of the Alexander Department at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television to train the company’s new recruits.
“We’re one of Santa Monica’s best kept secrets,” Farmanesh-Bocca said, citing that, while their shows are not usually overcrowded with audience members, those in attendance are often blown away by the performances.
Twenty cast members have graced the stage throughout the play’s production — individuals as varied as a 20-year-old college junior to a 65-year-old father of three. Past performers have included Yale, NYU and Juliard graduates.
This year, the short training process was followed by an intense, compacted 12 days of rehearsal.
In previous years, the company has graced the stage of the Annenberg Beach House and other Santa Monica outlets, sometimes producing two shows at a time. Yet, Farmanesh-Bocca admits the company was supposed to dissipate after seven years. However, continued dedication and collaboration with its current parent company, Not Man Apart – Physical Theatre Ensemble, has kept the tradition going.
“Now it seems like we may never stop,” Farmanesh-Bocca said.
Indeed, the Shakespeare craze in Santa Monica is at an all-time high. With the Santa Monica Rep debuting their production of “The Tempest” this summer, and Venice Beach showcasing Salty Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” it’s an exciting time for Bard lovers in the city.
“Don’t miss it!” Jessica Cusick, City Hall’s cultural affairs manager, said regarding the final showings of “Much Ado About Nothing.”
The tennis courts have only harbored 50 to 100 audience members throughout the show’s run, while the capacity hovers near 500, Farmanesh-Bocca said. But Cusick urges residents not to miss these “high caliber productions.”