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Bryant Park season opens with "Much Ado About Nothing"

Eric Paterniani is back in Bryant Park with the Drilling Company playing Conrad for Much Ado About Nothing.

The Drilling Company's Shakespeare in the Parking Lot ensemble will open the third season of Shakespeare in Bryant Park with "Much Ado about Nothing" set in the Post World War I Suffragette movement. This free production, directed by Hamilton Clancy, will be offered from May 19 to June 4 on the Upper Terrace of Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library.

Having provided free Shakespeare for an estimated 20,000 theatergoers in 2014 and 2015, Bryant Park is now offering these classics as part of a producing series named "Bryant Park Presents." The Drilling Company, known for its intrepid, bare-boned Shakespeare in the Parking Lot productions, is exclusive producer of the Park's Shakespeare offerings. The Drilling Company made its Bryant Park debut in 2014 with "Hamlet" (as the inaugural production of a series that was then called Bryant Park Shakespeare). Last year, the troupe was invited back to Bryant Park for a three-show season and produced "Two Gentlemen of Verona," "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Taming of the Shrew." The midtown location is a most welcome new NY venue for free Shakespeare. Food kiosks serve affordable meals there, capacious rest rooms are close at hand and there is seating for unlimited crowds on bistro chairs. Best of all, there is never any waiting in line for tickets.

"Much Ado About Nothing" is a comedy about courtships: a hasty one that nearly goes wrong and a reluctant one that leads to success. The reluctant wooers are the delightful Beatrice and Benedick, who are onstage through most of the play. The hasty wooers are Hero, Beatrice's cousin, and Claudio, Bendick's comrade in arms. In the original play, the men have returned from a military campaign in Sicily with hearts bent on marriage. Here they are World War I vets. The women are Suffragettes and their zeal for new women's roles introduces a new level of complexity to the witty, agile, sometimes insulting repartee between the lovers that is the play's trademark. The plot centers on the high trickery it takes to bring Beatrice and Benedick together and the bumbling of Dogberry and Verges, who bring villainy to light before it separates Hero and Claudio.

Director Hamilton Clancy explains, "We are setting it in the Suffragette Movement because we are interested in interpreting Beatrice as an original fighter for women's rights. In a time when we may elect a female President, it seems right for this. The language and conflict of the characters in 'Much Ado' suggests a lot of the values and mores of the early 20th Century. The soldiers returning from World War I were eager to settle down and society was preparing for the emergence of powerful women. It's a natural fit."

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