One of the greatest challenges facing any Shakespearian actor is putting on and peeling off various layers of pretense throughout a play. This is what makes Much Ado About Nothing so interesting. Whoever plays the part of Beatrice must pretend she is a woman pretending she is not in love with Benedick, who, in turn, is played by an actor pretending to pretend he doesn’t love her. The actor playing Don Pedro must pretend to pretend to be happy, shirking sadness by means of his clever plot to bring “Signior Benedick and the Lady Beatrice into a mountain of affection the one with the other” (II, i). Whoever plays Hero may well choose to portray her as a young woman pretending to be in love with Claudio, who, in turn, pretends to want her hand in marriage until rejecting her at the altar. The stage is full of characters portraying false feelings while trying to ascertain the true feelings of those around them.
Something about Williamstown Theatre Festival’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” just didn’t click for me. It was not for lack of ideas — several clever, a couple brilliant. It was the flow. I noticed it right away when the stage couldn’t seem to set up a rhythm with the laughter in the house. When a comedy is really cooking, a rhythm sets up. It’s a kind of play, this back and forth. When it is really good, it has a naturalness, even an inevitability. That did not happen in the performance I heard (July 4). Lines were often lost in the laughter; the house was often slow to respond, and once in a while the response seemed forced.
Our beloved Williamstown Theatre Festival has announced its Mainstage productions for the 2011 season, which will extend from July 1 to August 28. (Information about the Nikos Stage Season, as well as additional details about the Main Stage Season, will be announced at a later date.) This will be the first season under the festival’s new Artistic Director, Jenny Gersten, whose appointment was announced last spring. She is the third Artistic Director of the WTF within the past seven years, but no matter: she, like her predecessors, has had a long involvement with the Festival, as associate producer from 1996 to 2004, the years when Michael Ritchie ran it as Producer 1996-2004. He was succeeded by Roger Rees, who only lasted from 2004 to 2007 as Artistic Director. Nicholas Martin then took over. Mr. Martin suffered a stroke only a year into his tenure. After a period of recovery, the stroke seemed to impair his creative work very little, but it did force him to make choices — to Broadway’s benefit. All of these people have had strong connections with Broadway, as well as the non-profit theatres of New York. Hence there has been a solid continuity at the Festival in spite of this rapid succession of quick changes.