For director Jane Page, Much Ado About Nothing takes place in a world where characters are closely knit and male friendship and loyalty rule the day. As in many communities, gossip is rampant and so powerful that it even convinces a father to believe cruel rumors about his daughter. At the same time, some women enjoy an unusual amount of independence. To highlight these qualities, Page moves the action of Shakespeare's 16th century play to a frontier town in the Old West. Set designer Bob Cothran creates a classic Western main street, complete with the local Spanish Mission-style Church, saloon/hotel, and Messina County sheriff's office. Cothran describes the set as having a "ghost-town texture." Costume designer Maureen Carr Stevens develops the classic Western theme, even giving the irrepressible Verges an arsenal of weaponry to wear. Julie Mack's lighting design incorporates luminaries reminiscent of Mexican festivals to create "a sense of warmth and romanticism and lushness," while Kevin Dunayer's sound design is heavily influenced by the familiar sounds of the piano players of the Old West, the score from GUNSMOKE, bluegrass music and the songs of Stephen Foster. Page uses this "southwestern town culture" as a platform for incorporating many classic conventions of film and television Westerns: gun twirling, lasso tricks, a cracking bullwhip, and square dancing add to the fast-paced fun. Page feels that in this area of the country the setting is especially appropriate. After all, she says, "the Wild West is certainly part of our Colorado heritage."
In a western town in Messina County, Leonato, the owner of the local saloon, learns that Don Pedro is returning home after successfully protecting another wagon train of settlers on the frontier. Leonato's quick-witted niece Beatrice anticipates the return of Benedick with whom she enjoys verbal sparring. Don Pedro, his brother Don John, and Benedick return bringing Claudio, a young hero, with them. Claudio falls instantly in love with Leonato's daughter Hero, and reveals his feelings to his friend Benedick, who vows that he will remain a bachelor. Don Pedro agrees to help Claudio win Hero at that evening's celebration. Meanwhile, Don John, jealous of Claudio's close relationship with Don Pedro, plots with his friends Borachio and Conrade to undermine the courtship. As the couples pair off at the masked dance, Don John deceives Claudio into thinking that his brother Don Pedro has his eye on Hero and plans to marry her. Claudio soon discovers that far from stealing Hero, however, Don Pedro has won her for him. Claudio rejoices and Don Pedro proposes to a stunned Beatrice who politely declines. It is decided that Claudio and Hero's wedding will take place in one week's time. Don Pedro, with the help of Claudio, Hero, and Leonato, plots to convince Beatrice and Benedick to admit their true feelings for one another and to get them to marry. After ensuring that Benedick overhears their conversation, Leonato and Claudio reveal that Beatrice is secretly in love with the confirmed bachelor. Benedick is transformed to an ardent lover as he realizes his true feelings for Beatrice. Similarly, Hero and the women lasso Beatrice by allowing her to overhear a conversation in which they discuss Benedick's love for her. Beatrice returns Benedick's feelings and discovers that she wants to marry him. As Hero and Claudio's wedding approaches, Borachio devises a plot to impugn Hero's honor. The night before the wedding, Claudio sees what appears to be his fiancee embracing another man. Sheriff Dogberry and Deputy Verges have established a watch to patrol the town the night before Claudio and Hero's wedding. Bragging of their nefarious feat, Borachio and Conrade are nabbed by the watch who take their time interrogating the malefactors... During the wedding ceremony, an enraged Claudio accuses Hero of unfaithfulness. Although she proclaims her innocence, the men are adamant. Even Leonato is convinced of his daughter's affair. Grief-stricken, Hero swoons; Claudio storms off. Having witnessed the scene, and convinced of her innocence, the Friar counsels Leonato to announce that Hero has died in the hope that Claudio will regret his actions and realize how much he loves her. Although privy to the plot, Beatrice demands that Benedick kill Claudio to protect Hero's honor. Reluctantly, Benedick agrees and challenges his friend to a duel. Dogberry and Verges interrogate Conrade and Borachio, then take the villains to Don Pedro and Claudio to confess. Convinced of Hero's integrity, a contrite Claudio stands before the town ready to do what he can to honor her memory.
Shakespeare's Beatrice is a lively example of a woman who refuses to conform to conventional standards. She will not be told what to think or whom to marry and she always speaks her mind. Such assertiveness was common among women on the Western frontier. The promise of free land for homesteaders, gold, and a new way of life proved irresistible to many who journeyed west along the Oregon and Overland Trails with children and livestock in tow. Some, like the infamous Donner party, encountered overwhelming obstacles in their quest, but those who were successful found new adventures unfolding before them. For women, life was both more difficult and rewarding on the frontier. In the east, gender roles were determined by Victorian mores. Because they were believed to be more spiritual than men, protecting the family's morals was one of women's most important duties. In addition, they kept house, raised children, and performed similar tasks that restricted their activities to the home place. Out West, there were more opportunities, even if they were not always savory ones. Crime and prostitution flourished in the downtown area of Denver, where Mattie Silks became known as the "Queen of the Denver Red Lights." A cunning businesswoman, Silks ran a brothel in Georgetown, Colorado, before opening operations in Denver in 1876. Silks made and spent a fortune during her career, and retired in 1915 when efforts to rid the area of prostitution closed many brothels. Rigid gender roles were loosened by the harsh conditions that settler families encountered. Often, traditionally male roles were, by necessity, assumed by wives and daughters. Women drove cattle, performed funerals and ran businesses. As their roles expanded, so did their sense of self. If women could do men's work, why shouldn't they share some of the same rewards as men? Across the nation, women were demanding the right to vote, and many in the West championed this cause. In Oregon, Abigail Scott Duniway, a teacher and writer, was dismayed at the unfair treatment women received. Although they could not make business deals, they were accountable for debts their husbands had acquired. Women could not file a lawsuit or otherwise seek the protection of the court system. For over forty years, Abigail Scott Duniway campaigned tirelessly for women's suffrage in an effort to give women a voice against such injustice. She achieved success in 1912 at the age of 79 when women in Oregon were granted the right to vote. Denver's own "unsinkable" Molly Brown was another Western woman who fought for women's rights. In addition to supporting many philanthropic causes, Brown, working with the National Woman's Party in the 1920s, campaigned for the passage of the equal rights amendment. She became renowned for her unconventionality and outspoken views on the world around her. Both for Western women and Shakespeare's Beatrice, transgressing boundaries and forging new paths were daily events. By asserting their independence and speaking their minds, women like Mattie Silks, Abigail Duniway and Molly Brown redefined gender roles and influenced the development of the American West.
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