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Entertainment // Art & Stage
Rasa Fournier

Much Ado About The Earl Of Oxford

Shakespeare’s tome doesn’t call forth visions of students on stage.

Nevertheless, the Bard and high school students make an ideal combination, says esteemed local actor and director Eden Lee Murray:

“Teens are really emotionally available, and Shakespeare (characters) are people who passionately care. You’re not mad, you’re really angry. You’re not in love, you’re just all over the place in love.”

Murray, who previously headed up the Kaimuki High Shakespeare festival for several years, has been directing the Hawaii Theatre student education program for the past five years. The fall semester consists of twice-weekly meetings, where students learn brick-and-mortar skills while also participating in Shakespearean master classes with top Island professionals: Burton White of Broadway experience teaches a class on auditions, Paul Mitri on mask, Shannon Winpenny on improv basics and Yvonne Iversen on voice for theater. Mark Branner has a clowning class, making use of his expertise in both the Eastern and Western traditions, and Tony Pisculli teaches fight choreography.

The training culminates in the spring semester with a full-scale Shakespeare production. Coming up April 25 is Much Ado About Nothing, but with a twist. In Murray’s hands, the 20-student troupe are actors under the auspices of the Earl of Oxford, Edward DeVere, who has had a spat with his secret lover, Queen Elizabeth. To ease his way back into her good graces, he has quickly penned a romantic comedy in her honor.

The Shakespeare debate continues … Were Much Ado and accompanying scripts, rich with descriptions of specific European locales, written by a man who never left England? Or, more likely, by the well-traveled DeVere? Murray says the themes of some stories, like Hamlet, closely resemble DeVere’s biographical experiences. Besides, nobility couldn’t stoop to the level of menial playwright, so he would necessarily have had to ghostwrite his works.

“This is not a looney tunes idea,” points out Murray. “People like Freud and Mark Twain – respected thinkers – have favored this possibility.

“Our take with this play is that Oxford and Elizabeth have just gone around on one of their (historically true) spats, and he’s crossed the line. He stands to lose his land, his title and very likely his head. (What transpires is a) carefully coded apology to her majesty. Intrigued by him, she has agreed to a private showing at the court, and she comes equipped with a little bell. She makes it very clear to him and the players that if the bell sounds, they’re done for … and the bell does sound.

“The amazing thing about our take on the play is it makes it so immediate. You’re not just playing out a lovely, romantic comedy to show a piece of period theater. Heads will roll if her majesty is not pleased.”

Murray says she has edited down the play for time, but that while a backstory has been added, the audience will be getting the classic, unaltered Much Ado About Nothing. Before opening to the public, the students will perform school matinees April 23-25 (791-1310). Murray has provided an informative study guide online (hawaiitheatre.com) for classroom use, but it’s rife with information that would enrich any theater-goer’s experience.

Two capable young ladies, Kierdre Howard and Brianna Hayes, trade off with the roles of Elizabeth and Beatrice. Ari Dalbert, who plays Benedick, won the state English-speaking Union Shakespeare competition doing one of Benedick’s soliloquies. When the play closes, he’ll be representing Hawaii at the national level in New York.

“I love directing students (in Shakespeare),” says Murray. “They’re fearless. If you don’t tell them they can’t, they don’t know. I tell them they can. I set the bar really high, and this group is just top of the line.”

the TICKET stub
Much Ado About Nothing

When: April 25-26
Where: Hawaii Theatre
Cost: $5-$10
More Info: 528-0506, hawaiitheatre.com

ALSO SHOWING
The Emotive Draw Of A Photo

If a definition of art is “that which causes you to react; that which stirs up emotion,” Andrew Rose and the 44 photographers he’s featuring in his Contemporary Photography in Hawaii exhibit through May 2 (andrewrosegallery.com) have done their job. The show offers plenty to get one’s viscera in a tangle, 56 works in all.

The photos were selected from 500 submissions to UH’s Pacific New Media. Hawaii is the focus character in the photos, but in various lights. Much of the theme centers around nature, but then there are industrial shots where the destructive imagery is momentarily spell-binding. Pieces are moody, shaded provocatively, lit just so, perhaps out of focus in a way that disturbs smooth viewing, causing one to look again. Fresh-cheeked faces give way to leathered, sagging ones, highlighting in your apprehensive gut the fleeting beauty of youth – though captured here eternally – in the ever-rolling wheel of time.

A common Lanikai beach scene with its crisp sand and water invites some lingering joy. The seductive intensity of a young woman’s challenging eyes is disconcerting. Textures and colors beguile. A diseased ankle disgusts. What’s more common than a tree? But all of the shots of these leaved sculptures of nature make your gaze long and caressing. Woman, sky, water, animal, shadow … all are composed in such a way that you look and feel. To greet the artists, and get a taste for the vision behind the lens, visit during the April 18 reception from 5 to 8 p.m.

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