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This Year's Houston Shakespeare Festival Concentrates on Battles Large and Small

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She's a young woman who never wants to get married and spends a lot of time verbally sparring with a male friend, until, of course, they recognize what everyone already knows.

He's a young man, known for a somewhat dissolute youth, suddenly thrust into the top job in his kingdom after the death of his father, the king, in a story based on real historical events.

There's betrayal and deception in both plays, but with one a comedy and the other a serious historical play, it can be difficult to immediately see the likenesses between the two plays in repertory the Houston Shakespeare Festival will present this summer.

Until you listen to Rob Shimko, the festival's executive director, when he talks about why the University of Houston decided to present the comic Much Ado About Nothing and the historical play Henry V  on the Miller Theatre outdoor stage this year. 

“There’s something really great about how Much Ado and Henry fit together because they are both plays that feature soldiers in the context of war, so there’s battles looming in the background of Much Ado and battles very much on the front burner in Henry V,” says Shimko. “The really big-scale notions of war and human conflict are balanced against the very human-scale struggles of love and romance and personal ambition.”

Much Ado’s time frame has been reset to 1898 in the Teddy Roosevelt Spanish-American War era, and Henry will have the feel of being set in the past, albeit with contemporary costumes, Shimko says. "One of the reasons people set Shakespeare in specific time periods historically is to see how the universal stories interact with specific historical periods and the way those periods looked and the way those periods felt and what was going on in the world." 

A number of former UH students who’ve gone on to professional careers are back for the two productions to be seen in repertory, including UH graduate Lenny Banovez (who now runs the award-winning Titan Theatre Company in New York City), who’ll direct Henry V.

HSF Artistic Director Jack Young directs Much Ado About Nothing. Demetria Thomas, a graduate of the UH theater master’s program, has returned to play Beatrice in Much Ado. “Beatrice is a very sharp, courageous woman. She has essentially sworn off men and marriage and love and just determined to be her own woman. She also has a tongue that may or may not get her in trouble.”

Thomas’s goal? “That people [in the audience] are so engrossed in the story they don't finish their bottle of wine.”

All performances begin at 8:15 p.m. Much Ado About Nothing: July 29 and 31 and August 2, 4 and 6 and Henry V: July 30 and August 3, 5 and 7. Through August 7. Hermann Park’s Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Drive. Free.

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