Love, deception and honor are all themes in Shakespeare's comedy "Much Ado About Nothing" and Woman's Will" as the Bay Area 's all-female Shakespeare Company takes center stage at Centennial Park in Pleasanton next Sunday.
"Much Ado" follows two pairs of lovers as they navigate through social shame, distrust, uncertainty and grace. Benedick and Beatrice are locked in a battle of wits and secretly fall in love after some crafty urging by their friends. Claudio and Hero fall fast in love but their relationship is soon tested due to a humiliating lie planted by Don John, the illegitimate brother of an Aragon nobleman.
"It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet. There are engaging stories, with the sauce of beautiful words, basted in bawdy spices. There is imagery to scoop up, like huge clouds made of meringue spooned onto your dessert," said Director Lisa Edsall Giglio.
This is Giglio's first time directing a full-length production for the group and when it offered her a spot in the company and a Shakespearean comedy she "couldn't resist."
Actress Maddox Pratt, who plays Benedick, is not new to Woman's Will. While this is her acting debut with the company, she was the assistant director for Romeo and Juliet in 2007.
According to Pratt, "Much Ado About Nothing" is the blueprint for all modern day sitcoms with characters bantering back and forth and being tricked into showing their true feelings.
"It's a feel-good play," Pratt said, "When we laugh at the characters in the show we can laugh a little bit at ourselves and leave a little more lighthearted."
Woman's Will is a unique company due to its all-female cast. Started 13 years ago by retired Artistic Director Erin Merritt, it gave women a chance to be casted in iconic roles such as Romeo and Hamlet.
"The writing is beautiful," Giglio said. "We want to explore great literature and play writing."
Actress Lauren Spencer moved to the Bay Area from New York about a year ago and is making her Woman's Will debut as Beatrice.
"I was really attracted to the mission of Woman's Will," Spencer said. "There is a deficit in woman's roles and this company provides opportunities for people who are not male to play these powerful roles."
Pratt sees no difference in playing men's and women's roles.
"I approach every role by asking what is the truth of the character and how do I make that a real person," she said.
"Within the first few minutes you forget about the cast being all women because everyone is very committed to playing these roles as they are written," Spencer said.
For Spencer playing outdoors is a new challenge. Natural elements such as wind and other festivities in the park make it hard to be heard and stay in the moment, she said.
The company puts out two major productions a year, usually a contemporary or classic piece written by a woman performed indoors in the fall and a Shakespearean piece performed outdoors in the summer. Throughout the year the company also performs short plays for fundraisers and private events and offers acting classes for children and adults.
Centennial Park is located at 5353 Sunol Blvd., adjacent to the Pleasanton Senior Center. The play will start at 4:30 p.m. so pack a picnic basket and get out the lawn chairs for the late-afternoon show.