The ghosts of Southern belles are dancing in my imagination right now. I saw Much Ado About Nothing performed in the ruins of an antebellum finishing school today. It was the coolest thing! Well, it wasn’t cool. It was nearly 100 degrees and muggy when the play started. But it was really cool!
Situated on a hilltop overlooking the Patapsco River Valley in Historic Ellicott City, the Patapsco Female Institute was founded in 1837 and operated for more than 50 years as an elegant finishing school for young women. The stabilized ruins of the Greek Revival structure are open for tours, and serve as a beautiful setting for special events including Victorian teas and a summer open air theatre.
So, there were hoop skirts here. Young Southern belles during the Civil War. I bet they had dances like Scarlett O’Hara went to in Gone with the Wind.
Anyway, what a cool place to see a play! Huge trees surround the ruins. For the 4th of July, they started the play at 5 PM so we would have plenty of time to get out to see fireworks afterward. The actors also read the entire Declaration of Independence before the performance. That was kind of amazing to hear!
The seating is very casual and family friendly (kids get free admission to all performances). Some sat on blankets, others brought camp chairs. CSC provides 200 folding chairs, so I took one of those. We all moved around quite a lot to get out of the sun for the first 45 minutes or so. Once the shade from the trees kicked in, everything was much more pleasant. It would be really lovely in the evening.
The CSC provides pre-performance entertainment (jugglers, activities), but I arrived at showtime, so missed out on that. You could make quite a day of the outing. Because it was a family-oriented performance, one of the actors began by taking the kids (and any interested grown-ups) aside to explain the plot of the play (with photos) so they’d be able to follow along better. I thought that was really nice.
They did a great job with Much Ado About Nothing. The stage is a series of platforms and ramps built into the L-shaped side of the ruins. So, the actors perform there as well as using the many doors and windows of the ruins. It gives them a lot of flexibility and they use the space well.
This production is set during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. The acting is terrific! I enjoyed everyone. Beatrice has a lot of spunk and presence. You could see her cracking her gum in a Rosie the Riveter job. And she has that Big Band era chic… she looks great with her hair nets and stylish outfits.
One thing I noticed in this production that was not evident in video versions or from reading the text — Margaret during and after Hero’s jilting at the altar. Wow. So, it’s Margaret at the window with Borachio (they staged the window scene quietly here). Then the next day, Claudio humiliates Hero at the altar and accuses her of being a whore. So, all the while, Ms. Margaret, Hero’s trusted servant… is doing what? Why wouldn’t she set things straight at the wedding (blushingly waving, ummm, ahemm, excuse me, can I say something?). I don’t remember seeing her at all during the post-jilting in the film versions.
Well, here, I watched her on the stage. It was interesting. Everyone else ran to Hero’s aid when she fainted. Margaret stood aside, by herself, nervously playing with a bouquet and quietly contemplating her navel. I kept looking at her. Why wouldn’t she speak up? But then it worked for me. Here she is, a servant. The jilting is huge: Big Drama involving the daughter of the governor and all these important people. I could see then… it would be very difficult for Margaret to own up to the truth here (although I still think she could have done it later, in private). But here, the big scene, how strange it would be for a servant to pipe up with the news that Claudio and Don Pedro were mistaken and that it was she having sex with Borachio at her mistress’s window while he called her Hero. How would she explain that here? So then, I understood Margaret a bit more.
Only one thing bothered me during the whole show. You may have noticed that I love Balthasar’s song, as I’ve started many of my posts about Much Ado by quoting it. So, I was looking forward to hearing it performed. Guess what? Balthasar sang it in Spanish in this production! Oh, darn.
It was really fun to watch this play, it’s so entertaining… really a pleasant outing. If you’re in the area, I recommend catching a show here at the ruins. Hamlet is running in repertory this summer with Much Ado. It’s a lovely venue.
And I got home in plenty of time to see fireworks. Happy 4th of July!
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