Through the eyes of 1945: UVU’s production of Much Ado about Nothing

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Unlike the original play of Much Ado About Nothing set in Italy, UVU students performed the play as though it was set in 1945 at the Noorda Blackbox Theatre on Friday, Nov. 9 at 7:30. In this production, Dr. John Newman, the director, chose to adapt the setting in 1945, when WWII was coming to a close.

Much Ado About Nothing is one of the most famous comedies written by William Shakespeare. The UVU production of Much Ado About Nothing illustrated themes of gender roles, lies and love. It is a story about two couples: Beatrice and Benedict, played by Sam Sanduk and Jacob Thomason, and Hero and Claudio, played by Aspen Thompson and Josh Needles. Hero and Claudio were the traditional couple, and Beatrice and Benedick represented the progressive couple.

Using Shakespeare’s method of playing around with the setting, Newman chose to set Much Ado About Nothing in 1945 in a small town in Colorado. Newman mentioned Shakespeare himself would use the setting of his own day even when performing historical plays. For example, when Shakespeare was doing Julius Caesar, set in ancient Rome, he wasn’t dressing the actors in togas, but rather in the clothing in that time period.

In the original play, Much Ado About Nothing was set in a time when soldiers were returning home to Italy from a war. Newman wanted to set the play in WWII, and have the men returning from Italy rather than setting the play itself in Italy.

“The ending of WWII was the time where the roles of men and women were being renegotiated in the United States,” Newman explained.

During the war, many of the men were overseas, so women took over the men’s role in businesses, factories and agriculture. This was why the icon of “Rosie the Riveter” came into play. As the war was about to end, the men began coming home, and so women’s jobs were threatened.

In Much Ado About Nothing, the main actress, Beatrice, dressed up as the heroine figure Rosie the Riveter, a symbol known for her independent thoughts and speeches. On the other hand, Hero, the other main actress, wore a nurse uniform to represent a traditional woman figure who wasn’t able to speak for herself.

Josh Needles, a sophomore in theater education, played Claudio. Needles was excited to play Claudio. He remembered the actors’ very first read-through, saying, “We were laughing and having fun.”

Needles said, “I think gender roles are a super important theme for this specific production. For example, Sam’s character, Beatrice, when she does Rosie the Riveter’s sign. [It] is very much about empowering women.” He also said, “Hero never speaks for herself, and never gets a chance to deny her accusation.”

In this production, grammar, nouns and titles were updated, and some of the lines have been trimmed. Newman said, “Rather than trying to get rid of the imagery, [the trimming] is kind of like we are making that imagery clearer.”

In the director’s notes, he wrote, “A few characters have been fused and a few of their lines reassigned. Shakespeare’s lyrics have been grafted into 1940s music.” Director Newman’s decisions clarify Dean John’s motive and the reason why Beatrice falls in love with Benedick, which confused readers in the original play.

“I think it makes [Much Ado About Nothing] a little more accessible for people that maybe aren’t as familiar with the play” said Melanee Raynes, a senior majoring in literary studies. Even though Raynes is partial to the old style, she thinks the director did a good job maintaining the meaning in the original play. She said, “I read some [the study guide], I can see the parallel that they are trying to draw.”