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`Much Ado' about learning

February 20, 2006|Lynne Heffley

He's an arrogant, rich caballero. She's an independent Yankee pioneer. Together, they're Benedick and Beatrice, the opposites who attract in East L.A. Classic Theatre's mariachi-spiced version of Shakespeare's romantic comedy "Much Ado About Nothing."

Created by Bert Rosario, who adapted the play, and director Tony Plana -- in collaboration with Jose Hernandez of Mariachi Sol de Mexico -- this abridged, family-friendly production will be presented to 1,500 fourth- to eighth-graders next Monday at the historic Art Deco Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro. General audiences can catch the show first, in a public matinee at the theater Sunday at 3 p.m. (Admission is free but reservations are required.)

In this colorful retelling, Shakespeare's comedy is set in 1872 California after the Battle of Puebla and the restoration of a Mexican republic -- the event celebrated as Cinco de Mayo. The romantic plot plays against the clash of cultures that was altering California's social and economic landscape.

"The male characters are all Mexican soldiers, and the females, Beatrice and her family, are Yankee settlers, who were gold-rushers here in California," says Plana, executive artistic director of East L.A. Classic Theatre (ECT).

"It gives us an opportunity to discuss racism as a relevant theme in the play," Plana explains. "The other theme is how gossip and rumor can be so destructive. That's particularly relevant to middle school and high school kids."

That plays into ECT's mission, he adds. Founded in 1992, Plana's company is dedicated not only to introducing young people to Shakespeare, but also to bringing them curriculum-aligned, age-appropriate educational experiences through theater, and "to have a multicultural cast interpret these plays so that kids can see themselves in the characters."

-- Lynne Heffley

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