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September 25, 2013

'Much Ado' about PALT

PORT ARTHUR — Fair warning: Attending Port Arthur Little Theatre’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing” may cause whiplash.

“It's one of those plays that really plays the line between tragedy and comedy,” director Katy Mulvaney said. “The first half is pretty light entertainment, but then everything goes wrong and you have a bunch of things that belong in tragedy. You can get whiplash.”

Widely considered one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, “Much Ado About Nothing” revolves around two pairs of lovers — Claudio and Hero, and Benedick and Beatrice. Claudio (Carlos Sierra) and Hero (Resa Pletcher) make no effort to conceal their affection for one another. In contrast, Benedick and Beatrice trade barbs constantly and spurn romance in all forms — a sure rom-com indicator that the two will be together by story’s end.

The relationship between Benedick and Beatrice isn’t much of a stretch for actors Brad Huckabay and Haley Zani, who portray the witty pair onstage. Although the two only met on the set of the show, the banter between them flows as effortlessly out of character as it does in.

“We like to box,” said Huckabay, who lives in Orange. “She’s a good sparring partner.”

Much like the actors who portray them, Benedick and Beatrice are very similar — both are strong-willed, both enjoy the spotlight, and both are fiercely loyal in spite of their sharp tongues. These are all traits Huckabay and Zani share with their characters, but they diverge in their experience with the Bard. Huckabay, who is making his Shakespearean debut with this role, said he is enjoying the dichotomy between humor and tragedy.

“There’s one scene where she (Beatrice) is crying, and the next scene it’s, ‘Tee-hee, ha-ha,’” he said. “I love the fact that there are so many different shades of this show.”

Zani, on the other hand, finds herself drawn to Shakespeare’s work — in fact, she is reprising her high school role of Beatrice in this production.

“It gives you a different perspective,” said Zani, a Port Arthur native who now lives in Groves. “I was not as strong-headed and independent as I am now, so it’s cool to see how different the character becomes with 15 years of growing up.”

Huckabay and Zani hope to establish the same rapport their characters share with the audience. In Shakespeare’s time, this production would have been performed outdoors around 2 p.m., with the sun as the only lighting. Mulvaney and her crew have done their best to capture this effect for the stage.

“There’s no fourth wall,” Huckabay said. “You know you’re watching a play.”

 For this reason, Shakespeare incorporated plenty of opportunities for audience interaction with the characters.

“The more the audience reacts to us, the more they’re going to get from us,” Zani said.

The jovial tone of “Much Ado About Nothing” makes it the perfect introduction for Shakespeare newbies, Mulvaney said.

“It’s a lot of fun, a lot of energy, and there’s so many wonderful characters, you're bound to fall in love with somebody,” she said. “Give us a try, and we’ll show you Shakespeare doesn’t have to be stuffy.”

“Much Ado About Nothing” opened Sept. 20 at Port Arthur Little Theatre Playhouse, 4701 Jimmy Johnson Blvd. The show will run for two more weekends, Sept. 27-29 and Oct. 4-6. All Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7:30 p.m.. with the Sunday matinees beginning at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $11 for adults; $9 for senior citizens, teachers and members of the military; and $6 for students. For tickets or more information, call 409-727-7258.

Email: ecallahan@panews.com

Twitter: @ErinnPA

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