Gateway Players to perform Shakespeare comedy on the green in Bristol

BRISTOL — Are you ready for a witty battle of the sexes comedy? Well, who isn’t.
And why not go to the top — Shakespeare himself.
Add to this the charm of a balmy mid-August evening on the Bristol town green and you’ve got it — Bristol Gateway Players’ next offering: “Much Ado About Nothing,” Master William’s hilarious send-up of girls and boys fighting about love.
The show will be staged en plein air this Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 13-16.
Two years ago the Players initiated their Shakespeare on the Green program with “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The production was so popular that the Bristol troupe is returning with one of the Bard’s funniest comedies. If the response continues to be so positive, they promise to carry on the tradition in the years to come.
“One of the hardest tasks in mounting a show like this is finding a director,” said Carl Engvall, president of the Bristol Gateway Players. “There aren’t many people who have the skills and, more than that, the energy to put a production together — it’s a lot of work!”
Engvall should know, he directed “Midsummer” and the other two summer shows that the Players presented prior to the Shakespeare series, “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “Our Town.” This year he found Kevin Commins to do the job.
Commins is not only an Addison County native, but he has a long career in theater and entertainment.
He graduated from Middlebury Union High School and Middlebury College. Leaving shortly after graduation for Los Angeles, he worked in movie and television development, eventually becoming a scriptwriter. His movies have played on Hallmark, Animal Planet, Lifetime, Syfy and the History Channel, among others. Since moving back to Addison County, he has played several roles in Middlebury Community Players productions, including Fagin in “Oliver” this past fall and the French taunter in “Spamalot” in the spring. He has directed “Almost, Maine” and “Boeing, Boeing” for the same organization.
“Kevin has comedy cred to spare,” Engvall observed.
Commins looks forward to directing “Much Ado.”
“Two years ago, I saw the Gateway Players’ production of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and loved the experience of sitting with a couple hundred people in the middle of the Bristol green and watching Shakespeare, who wrote his plays to be performed outside,” Commins said. “So when I was asked to direct this year’s production, I immediately said yes. I love the idea of a community gathering out of doors to celebrate a play written in the 16th century. In Vermont there’s always been a sense of tradition and continuity and this production resonates with that sense. ‘Much Ado’ has delighted audiences for over 400 years and I fully expect that, 400 years in the future, people will still be gathering in Vermont venues to watch it.”
The Gateway Players have seen one big hurdle as they prepare this month’s show. When Commins was recently asked how the show was going, he replied, “Absolutely great … until this happened.”
“This” was a bad automobile accident, four weeks before opening night, in which his leading lady, Tirzha Osmun, broke her ankle and suffered other injuries. Tirzha plays Beatrice, the wicked-tongued foil for Benedick. This is the couple who put “Battle of the Sexes” into the English lexicon. Commins’ job, as he sees it, is to adapt the production to this new development, the accident.
“Beatrice’s stand-up comedy will have to be sit-down,” Commins reflected. “And then the dancing scene comes to mind. Hmmm, well, come to the play and find out.”
Not all the parties to the production are so circumspect. Christopher Ross, who plays Benedick, predicted, “Though we all hope Tirzha’s ankle heals quickly, this particular Benedick is looking forward to making use of her limited mobility. I’m quite sure that Beatrice is cleverer than Benedick. When she is at her most witty, she makes him feel like ‘a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at me.’ If Benedick is to woo her he will need all the help he can get. If he can manage, himself, to stay mobile throughout the production, he can be assured of his prize — Beatrice won’t be able to get away!”
Ross is a writer and graduate student at the Bread Loaf School of English who got the theater bug a year ago, when he was cast in his first role as Bill Sykes in “Oliver!” Since then he has played a number of roles at the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury.
Osmun has a B.A. in Acting and Directing with a minor in Music from Castleton State College. She recently lamented about her accident.
“At first it looked really bad for me, but working with Kevin and my fellow cast members made the old theatrical bromide come to life — The Show Must Go On!” she said. “This play will be very different from anything I’ve done before, as I will be acting from the comfort of … a wheel chair. Not being able to move and act as large as I would like will be quite a challenge, but it is one I am determined to meet and overcome. One leg can kick, one arm can punch, one eye can wink, and I will use these advantages to distract from my disadvantage.”
There are other threads in the play: the dramatic love story that unfolds between Hero (played by Erin Zubarik) and Claudio (Ethan Allred) as well as the goofy fumblings of Constable Dogberry (played by Tom McElhaney) and his sidekick, Verges (Niko’a Salas). Other local actors in the cast are Melissa Jennison, Carl Engvall, Kathleen Walls, Kelsi Powers, David Kuntz, Carl Sword and Michelle Patton.
“Much Ado About Nothing,” will be performed outdoors on the Bristol green Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 13, 14, 15, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 16, at 2 p.m. The suggested donation is $10 at the gate. Bring a seat or blanket, if you’d rather not sit on the grass. In case of inclement weather the play will be performed in Holley Hall across West Street from the green. For more information call 802-453-7817.

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