I’m a bit of a culture snob. I may have mentioned this before in passing. I think I may also have mentioned that my beloved family is more of the hunt, fish, and camp variety, which meant I spent a large portion of my childhood asking where my “real” parents were. Of course, as I grew, it became more than apparent – even to me – that my parents were, in fact, raising me. And that they were just as bewildered as I was.
A natural inclination toward the theater could easily have been starved out of me in the Phoenix of the 1970s. There weren’t a lot of live productions in the valley at that time. Luckily, my mom had at least a small interest in seeing musicals. I’m pretty sure the first show I ever saw was South Pacific, and I remember being in awe of the people who were dancing and singing on the stage. For my ninth birthday, she and Dad took me to see The Unsinkable Molly Brown at the Windmill Dinner Theatre. Nothing could have made me happier.
I saw several other shows over the years, and even acted in a few eventually. I loved performing and I had natural comic timing. For a while I thought I wanted to be an actress – then I realized that most actors and actresses work other jobs in order to feed their passion. My friend Fernando is an example of this: being great at something isn’t a guarantee of monetary success. He has worked off and on for most of the twenty years or so that I have known him. He is never happier than when he is acting, but he has almost always worked as a translator to support himself. I wasn’t devoted enough to the craft of acting to live my life that way.
Nevertheless, my passion for theater has never burned out. I fell in love with my husband when he called me the day after our first date and invited me out to see a Shakespearean play. At that moment, I knew he was the one for me.
All this to tell you about our date night.
We started our evening at one of my favorite restaurants in the east valley, the Cornish Pasty Co. It’s a small place with more communal tables than private ones, though we make it a point to take a private one. The servers are pierced and tattooed, as are many of the patrons, but everyone seems friendly and the atmosphere is jovial. The music playing in the background leans heavily toward Motown classics.
The food is the real draw, of course. It is totally unique in the valley – the only place that serves a variety of what was originally a miner’s lunch. Pasties (pronounced “past-ees”) are meat-and-potato-filled pastries with a dough “handle” baked into the top. We each enjoyed a cup of their cream of leek, potato, and Stilton soup, which is smooth and rich with a little bitterness provided by the cheese. It comes with a dense white bread that might be house-made. I particularly like to dip the bread into the soup – perfect! When it came to the pasties, Dan ordered The Pilgrim and I had the Rosemary Chicken. Honestly, he made the better choice. Not that mine was bad – his was better. Stuffed with all the makings of a good Thanksgiving meal, it just worked. By comparison, mine seemed a little lackluster. My one complaint was that our soups and our pasties came at the same time – poor planning on the kitchen’s part, I suppose. My previous service experience was much better.
After dinner, we went to see a Southwest Shakespeare Company production of Love’s Labour’s Lost. I had never seen this comedy before – a rarity for me, as we have seen a surprising number of Shakespearean comedies multiple times. The director had chosen to set it in 1914, right before the start of World War I. The costuming for this production was extremely well done, and the use of several period-specific songs for the musical interludes really helped to set the stage. The story centers on four young men and their paramours. The four actors also made a fairly good barbershop quartet, which lent a bit of style to the production.
As is the norm for the company, the casting was perfect. The four young men pulled off the physical comedy as adeptly as they did the verbal jousting of Shakespeare’s script. In my opinion though, the standout of the cast was Rick Davis as Costard, the comical groundskeeper.
While I enjoyed the production, I was less taken with the play itself. It turns out there is a reason I’ve never seen it before – it’s not that great. It’s a play that begs for a sequel; unfortunately, the sequel, Love’s Labour’s Won, is known as Shakespeare’s “lost” play. The director’s pre-show notes suggested that Much Ado About Nothing may be a rewrite of the lost play, and, indeed, I can see a parallel between some of the characters of each. Berowne and Rosaline, for instance, could be Benedick and Beatrice. However, the relationship between the two plays is tenuous at best.
My other problem with the play may not bother anyone else at all: the rhyming aspect. Much of the dialogue is written in rhyming couplets which practically beg to be spoken in sing-song. The actors who fall into the trap invariably sound less like they are acting than reciting a poem. Whenever one of the actors fell into the trap, it jarred me out of the theatrical illusion. It didn’t happen too often, but I can’t help but feel that Shakespeare himself would have regretted his persistent rhyming if he had seen actors of lesser talent perform this play.
If you are in the Phoenix Metro area and are so inclined, I recommend taking in a performance of the play, which runs through September 22nd. While not one of my favorites, it is certainly worth seeing at least once, if only for the comparison to Much Ado About Nothing. And this production is certainly well worth the price of a ticket.
The worthy bard himself. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)