BUSAN, South Korea – Kendall Maize plays Hero in this year’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, the third annual play put on by local theater group Shakespeare in Busan. When asked to sum up the Bard’s famed play in one sentence, she pauses, then decides: “I’d say it’s a bromance.”
Much Ado About Nothing is often described as one of Shakespeare’s most popular and enduring comedies, a light-hearted love story centered on two sets of couples: the thorny Benedick and Beatrice, and the swooning lovers Claudio and Hero. Kerry Maher, who plays Hero’s father Leonato, sums it up in a way much more fitting with both conventional thought and the play’s title, noting, “It’s a lot of tremendous to-do about very little.” Indeed, gossip reigns supreme in Much Ado: through rumors and hearsay, Benedick and Beatrice are persuaded into admitting they love each other, while Claudio is tricked into believing Hero has been unfaithful to him.
But Maize has a point about the bromance. The 'love triangle' driving the action of the plot is entirely male: Don John, the villain, is jealous of the growing relationship between his brother, Don Pedro, and the newcomer Claudio. “Don John wants to ruin Claudio's life so that he can be the favorite again,” Maize casually explains. “They just want to be bros."
This is a uniquely modern way to frame a centuries-old story steeped in a tradition which has been passed down from generation to generation through many ages, cultures and styles. And it’s exactly what Shakespeare in Busan is doing: bridging the gaps of language, culture and modernity that present themselves when you attempt to tackle Shakespeare in a foreign country.
Take the average laundry list of theater production obstacles and add to it the distinct difficulty of doing Shakespeare in a non-native English speaking country – keeping in mind that Shakespearean English is sometimes difficult even for native speakers to understand – and you might conclude that Shakespeare in Busan would be faced with quite a challenge.
However, the past two productions of Shakespeare in Busan have been resounding successes which have pulled in diverse audiences of both Korean and expat viewers, and this year’s production holds the same promise. Director and co-producer Jennifer Howell argues that Shakespeare transcends the barriers of culture and language: “I think there's something in the rhythm itself, in the beauty of the words, the poetry… that enchants people, even people who don't necessarily understand everything that's going on.”
What's more, the setting of the outdoor production on beautiful Dalmaji Hill, surrounded by trees and views of the ocean, will no doubt heighten the enchanting nature of the play. “It’s a gorgeous space,” Howell agrees.
At the core of Shakespeare in Busan, however, is its diverse and multi-talented cast and crew. “We've got some fantastic actors in this cast,” Howell says, mentioning that the cast includes both newcomers to the stage as well as seasoned actors with years of professional experience. Howell is sharing producing and directing duties with experienced theater buff Peter Starr Northrop, and this year’s crew even includes an aspiring vocal coach, Alicia Richardson, who has volunteered her time to help the actors work on their pronunciation and meter.
“When you direct a play in Busan, it's really a communal experience,” Howell says as she muses on the enthusiasm and talent of the cast and crew. “Everyone contributes a lot.” And that, according to Howell, is really at the heart of what Shakespeare in Busan is all about: “It's about bringing people together.”
Well, that and a bromance.
Much Ado About Nothing will run for four shows – on June 2, 3, 9 and 10 – at Dalmaji Hill amphitheater in Haeundae. The show starts at 3 p.m. and runs until approximately 6 p.m., with a 15-minute intermission. The audience is encouraged to bring a picnic to enjoy during the show. Admission is free.
Taxi – The name of the amphitheater in Korean is ??? ????. Not all taxi drivers are familiar, however, so if this doesn't work, from Haeundae or Jangsan tell the taxi driver – “Dalmaj-gili”, “Alexander Shikdang” or “Alexander Restaurant”.
If walking from Haeundae Beach (give yourself 30 minutes) – start by facing the ocean, turn left and walk all the way to the end of the beach, past the Paradise Hotel and Pale de CZ. Take a left at the end of the beach up the hill. At the top of the hill you'll come to a large intersection. Take the right up the hill on a tree-lined walkway. Walk for about 20 minutes. You'll eventually come to an area full of coffee shops. It's just a bit further on your right, across the street from the Alexander Restaurant (restaurant gaudily decorated with statues) and down hill through the trees.
Photos by Lee Gumienny.