This Friday has been a long time coming for Prenzie Players, which is overjoyed to present the Shakespeare comedy “Much Ado About Nothing,” opening March 17 at the Village Theatre, 2113 E. 11th St., Village of East Davenport.
In its 20th-anniversary year, Prenzie is back on the theater scene after an absence of more than three years. The troupe began in 2003 and last had a show in November 2019, with “Merry Wives of Windsor.” It previously did “Much Ado” in 2009.
“Like so many other places, I mean, COVID is a thing that is still affecting live theater among other things. So it was our decision to just kind of wait and test the waters here,” Jarrod DeRooi, a first-time director, said this week of the new show.
He has been a Prenzie regular for 14 years; played the title role in “Coriolanus” in 2017 and was in “A Comedy of Errors” in April 2019.
DeRooi wanted to bring back “Much Ado About Nothing,” since “it’s my favorite Shakespearean comedy. It’s one of my favorite Shakespeare shows,” he said. “Given the option of what I wanted to direct, it was a very easy, clear choice,” DeRooi said. “For a company who’s been inactive for three years, it felt like the perfect show to come back on for me.”
This comedy from Shakespeare’s middle period is “one of his wittiest, with Benedick and Beatrice starting out with total disdain for each other that blossoms (with much help) into deepest love,” according to a summary from Prenzie, which specializes in the Bard from Stratford-upon-Avon. “Of course, everything that could possibly go wrong with this love story does, and the ways disaster is defeated are more than half the fun of this engaging work.”
Benedick and Beatrice have a history, while Claudio and Hero experience love — then impropriety threatens to spoil it all, the summary says. Everything that could possibly go wrong with these love stories does. “Much Ado” is called one of Shakespeare’s wittiest plays about love, secret disguises, and a bumbling city watch.
An ideal cast
The Prenzie cast is a “Who’s Who” of talent in the Quad-City area and beyond.
There are founding members of the Prenzie Players — J.C. Luxton playing the male lead (Benedick) and Denise Yoder as Dona Petra. There are Prenzie regulars Jess White, Noah Stivers, Jen Brown, Mattie Gelaude and Kitty Israel in major roles.
People new to Prenzie include female lead Lily Blouin (Beatrice), who has participated in just about every other theater group in the QC area, and Iowa City actors John Smick and Ryan Elgin.
There are even some new faces to theater here. Mark Garden, who turned heads with his stunning work in his first-ever role in “Twelve Angry Jurors” (Playcrafters), plays the “heavy” Don John, and the troubadour Balthazar is to be the first role since high school for Davenport musician Jenny Lynn Stacy, according to a Prenzie release.
“We’ve got a great mix of people who’ve been doing this for a long time,” DeRooi said. “We have several actors from other Quad-City theaters and we’ve actually got four actors from Iowa City – a traveling contingent as well, who come down every day.”
That includes J.C. Luxton, who is playing opposite Lily Blouin in her first Prenzie show.
“She is so awesome. We were so grateful that she auditioned,” DeRooi said. “She’s amazing to work with, and she brings so much experience — not just in an acting capacity but her experience with sword play and fight choreography.”
The chemistry between the combative couple is great, he said.
“It’s very energetic. If you know J.C., energy is just part of his everyday operation,” DeRooi said. “The two of them on stage, I would say that the chemistry was very instantaneous. It’s very fun and they play off each other so very well, it would be hard to imagine a different partner for either one of them, to be perfectly honest.”
A true theatrical family
The director is also thrilled to see the Prenzie family reunite and expand.
“It’s been a lot of fun to watch that happen,” DeRooi said. “We have several longtime members in the show, but we’ve also had a lot of people who have come back and help mentoring, with acting, with set construction, with costumes there.
“It’s definitely been a show where we’ve got to see just about everybody show up in the space to help,” he said. “One of my favorite things about Prenzie always has always been, it felt like a big family. Once you do one show, you’re part of the family and being a very collaborative approach to theater, always the thing that we have is each other. In this show, there’s been a lot of it and it’s been really wonderful to watch.”
He’s been the opposite of a dictatorial director, highlighting partnership with actors.
“I told my actors when we started that 30 or 40 percent of the ideas that I have initially will be actually what we see on stage,” DeRooi said. “And the rest of it, this other 60% will come from the ideas they have. The general rule of thumb is that anybody may offer an idea and it will always be heard and welcomed.”
It was a challenge to get the Prenzie machine up and running after its three-year-plus sleep, he noted. But he loves directing.
“It’s very fun, it’s very rewarding,” DeRooi said. “Having a certain amount of control over the creative process is kind of amazing.”
Prenzie is using lemons in its promo material since the story takes place on the edge of a lemon orchard, the director said.
“We chose lemons as a theme for the show because the relationship is very sour at times,” DeRooi said. “The lemon thing, on their own, they’re kind of hard to deal with.”
Future shows TBD
It’s yet to be determined how many shows Prenzie will do on a regular basis. They really like being in the Village Theatre now, he said.
“The Village Theatre has been amazing and they’ve been very accommodating to us,” DeRooi said. “They’ve allowed us to come in and kind of um use the space as we need. We ask for something and they seem to provide it.”
The “Much Ado” opening night is at 8 p.m., Friday, March 17, which features a post-show conversation with the audience. Other performances will be at 8 p.m. March 18, 2 p.m. March 19, plus 8 p.m. on March 23-25.
Like it did pre-COVID, Prenzie has a “Pay What It’s Worth” ticket policy. Once the show is over, audience members are asked to “reflect on the experience, then stop out front on your way out and pay what you think it’s worth. No one should be unable to attend this show because of ticket prices; on the other hand, if you appreciate our work and have the means, we encourage you to be generous,” the troupe says.
For more information, visit the Prenzie website HERE.