Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles to stage ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ starring Helen Hunt and Tom Irwin


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To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles -- known for its outdoor offerings -- will be heading indoors with a production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ starring Helen Hunt and Tom Irwin.

Music by Lyle Lovett will be featured in the show, which will run in December at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.


Founding Artistic Director Ben Donenberg says Hunt played Beatrice, the sharp-tongued heroine, in a staged reading of ‘Much Ado’ as part of a center fundraiser last spring. The actress, an Oscar and Emmy winner who has appeared on and off Broadway, enjoyed the experience so much she expressed interest in reprising the role.

‘That’s when I said, ‘I’d better get to work,’’ says Donenberg, who will direct what he calls a ‘California vineyard’ version of the romantic comedy. The play’s 17-member ensemble represents ‘a reunion of a lot of wonderful people from our past,’ he says, including Hunt, Irwin -- who will portray Benedick, Beatrice’s beloved sparring mate -- Dakin Matthews (Leonato), Stephen Root (Don John) and David Ogden Stiers (Dogberry).

Lovett will write music for ‘Much Ado’ as will siblings Sara and Sean Watkins, who also will perform. Some Lovett classics will be incorporated into the action, says Donenberg, who adds that the singer-songwriter ‘would like to be there, but it depends on his schedule.’

The Shakespeare Center -- originally Shakespeare Festival/LA -- presented its first play, ‘Twelfth Night,’ in 1986 in Pershing Square. It has since performed at various outdoor venues, specializing in stagings that reflect Los Angeles’ history and culture such as a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ set in 1930s Boyle Heights. In lieu of charging admission, Donenberg and his colleagues request donations of food for the needy. The downtown-based center also maintains a commitment to community outreach and education.

The company’s productions don’t usually feature a lot of marquee names, aside from the annual ‘Simply Shakespeare’ fund-raising readings, which are hosted by board member Rita Wilson and her husband, Tom Hanks.

For the 25th anniversary, however, Donenberg says ‘we wanted to do something special’ as well as ‘our first full indoor production.’ He contacted the Center Theatre Group, which offered the Douglas rent-free. ‘This is the first show that we’re doing with a box office in mind,’ he adds, noting that to help cover costs the center received several grants and an anonymous donation from a CTG board member. ‘The rest, we hope, will come in ticket sales.’


Do more indoor performances lie ahead? ‘Maybe,’ says Donenberg. ‘We are going to look at all kinds of ways to make Shakespeare accessible.’

‘Much Ado About Nothing’ will run Dec. 1-19, with opening night on Dec. 12. Tickets will go on sale Tuesday, Oct. 26.

-- Karen Wada


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