JANESVILLE—Janesville isn't what you'd call a “Shakespeare town.”
That's not to say the city is without its fans, but performances of the Bard's masterworks aren't exactly commonplace. And the last time Shakespeare was presented outdoors in these parts, Bill Clinton was president.
That soon will change. UW-Rock County Theatre will present four outdoor performances of the comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” on the campus quad lawn July 16-18.
“The last time Shakespeare was done outside in Janesville was in 1999 with 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and 'A Comedy of Errors.' People still talk about it,” said Zac Curtis, who will direct and perform as Don Pedro.
“I knew I wanted a comedy; something accessible to the public,” he said. “'Much Ado' is well known and it's not verse; it's written in prose. I think our audience will get it.”
In the play, nobleman Leonato welcomes friends home from war. Among those returning are Don Pedro, a close friend of Leonato, and two fellow soldiers, Claudio and Benedick. Don Pedro's brother, Don John, also accompanies the group.
Claudio becomes smitten with Leonato's daughter, Hero, and the two decide to marry. In the meantime, Benedick re-ignites a war of insults with Leonato's niece, Beatrice, who also lives in the home.
As Claudio and Hero prepare for marriage, the others players conspire to get Benedick and Beatrice together, telling each that the other secretly pines for him and her. The ruse works, and the two soon fall in love.
But Don John has other plans. He decides to disrupt everyone's happiness by concocting a scheme to convince Claudio that Hero has been unfaithful. The rest of the play involves a twisted mix of false death, confrontation and explanation in an effort to repair the ruptured romance.
Curtis said the play stays true to Shakespeare's script, but a modern-day beach house in the Hamptons replaces the original setting of Messina, Italy, in the 1400s.
“It is witty, smart, bawdy and crude at times, but it is a lot more clever and fun than people give it credit for,” Curtis said of the play. “Shakespeare is considered one of our greatest writers, and 400 years later the plays he wrote are still being performed.”
The local shows also offer a unique, inexpensive outdoor theater experience patrons would drive more than 80 miles to find at American Players Theatre in Spring Green.
“I would tell audience members to bring the kids, bring a blanket or lawn chair, a picnic, food and drink,” Curtis said. “APT does wonderful theater, but this is in our backyard with community members (performing). I hope people come out to support that.”