PORT ANGELES — In a comedy spiced with piquant lines, here’s one the actor Josh Sutcliffe relishes especially.
“Man is a giddy thing,” he gets to say as the romantic lead in “Much Ado about Nothing,” the play debuting on the outdoor stage today for a three-weekend run.
William Shakespeare is the writer of that line, which Sutcliffe calls “one of the most succinct and accurate statements ever written.”
This “Much Ado,” part of the annual Shakespeare in the Woods festival at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, is set in almost-modern times.
Admission is free to the play, performed in the meadow outside the fine arts center, 1203 E. Lauridsen Blvd., on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 6.
A short pre-show, created by the cast to enhance audience members’ enjoyment of Shakespeare’s language and themes, starts at 6 p.m.; the play itself begins at 6:30.
“Much Ado’s” comedy centers on two people who’re determined to stay single: Beatrice (Sharah Truett) and Benedick (Sutcliffe), and the sexy scheming going on around them.
Modern audiences can get into this 4-century-old story, said director Anna Andersen, because it’s all about those universal themes, namely “joy, betrayal and forgiveness.” “Much Ado” is one of Shakespeare’s most accessible plays, she believes.
The 30-member Shakespeare in the Woods troupe includes cast and crew members from Port Angeles and Sequim, all devoted to this picnic-style theater.
Truett, like many of us, became familiar with the play through the 1993 movie version starring Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington.
As Beatrice, Truett steps into her power as a woman of sharp wit and words — to her mind one of Shakespeare’s best female characters.
“Much Ado” is loaded with surprises — in Shakespeare’s script and in the staging Andersen has chosen. She’s set it in the early 1950s, and she will officiate at a real, live wedding during one of the performances.
It’s still a secret which of the nine shows will culminate in the nuptials of a Port Angeles couple. But every “Much Ado” will be romantic as can be, Truett promised.
As Beatrice, she gets to utter another great line:
“I love you,” the young woman tells her man, “with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.”
For those who might be a little Shakespeare-averse, Andersen sends an invitation to the pre-show.
The young performers in the cast, with the help of assistant director Jennifer Horton, wrote the short piece to introduce the “Much Ado” characters and acquaint people with the plot points. “It’s also a fabulously good time,” Andersen said.
The players don’t miss their chance to frolic in the meadow, with its gnarly trees and sculptures. Benedick gets to fall out of a tree, for example, which is one of Sutcliffe’s favorite parts.
“I’m happiest when risking bodily injury for my art,” he said.
“When you go to a Shakespeare play,” Sutcliffe added, “you are participating in the storytelling experience, live and in person,” and you get to find out, first-hand, why people still flock to Shakespeare’s plays 401 years after he shuffled off the mortal coil.
New this year at Shakespeare in the Woods: Blackbird Coffee and Good to Go Grocery will have food and drink available for purchase at the show. Playgoers also are welcome to bring their own picnic fare, lawn chairs and blankets.
This is the third Shakespeare in the Woods presentation, following last summer’s “The Tempest” and 2015’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The production continues to seek community sponsors, said fine arts center Executive Director Jessica Elliott, to keep the tickets free.
For more information, see www.PAFAC.org, find PAFAC Shakespeare Festival on Facebook or call the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center at 360-457-3532.
Diane Urbani de la Paz is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Angeles.