A Perilous Journey

A Noise Within making much ado in the 1940s

By Bridgette M. Redman

It takes courage to love. At A Noise Within, they’ve devoted an entire season to stories that show people who dare to love.

They’ve already staged “Animal Farm,” “Radio Golf” and “A Christmas Carol.” On Saturday, February 11, they’ll open William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” a madcap comedy where several couples travel perilous journeys to wedded bliss. 

Remaining shows will be “The Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “The Book of Will.”

Director Guillermo Cienfuegos has directed around the country for decades, but “Much Ado About Nothing” is his debut at A Noise Within, a theater that focuses on the classics. 

Cienfuegos describes “A Noise Within” as having an inspirational story — the founders and co-artistic directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott started the company in several small venues and cleaned houses to keep the theater afloat. Now, they have a facility in Pasadena and are, he says, the premiere presenter of classical theater in Southern California.

“The artistic directors at A Noise Within were just sort of aware of me directing, and they reached out to see if I’d be interested in this,” Cienfuegos says. 

“It’s one of Shakespeare’s most wonderful comedies, and I jumped at the chance to be able to do this really great story on this stage. Not a lot of people get that opportunity.”

In “Much Ado About Nothing,” a group of soldiers returns to Sicily to celebrate their victory. Claudio is eager to propose to Hero, whom he fell in love with before the war. Meanwhile, the sharp-witted duo of Beatrice and Benedick are convinced they shall remain unmarried and snipe mercilessly at each other until their friends and relatives decide to play matchmaker. However, neither couple’s path to bliss is smooth, and the comedy is filled with intrigue, passion and surprise twists.

Cienfuegos, who directed an award-winning version of “Henry V” at Pacific Resident Theatre in 2014, said that whenever he is directing, he must find a personal connection to the story beyond it being a great play. 

For Henry V, the thing that sparked his passion was that even though it is technically a history play, it was a story about miracles, the miracle of what the soldiers pulled off. He felt that his actors pulling off the show in a tiny 34-seat theater was also a miracle. 

“In ‘Much Ado,’ the connection is that it’s a terrifying thing to love somebody,” Cienfuegos says. “It’s terrifying to let yourself love someone and to allow yourself to be loved by someone because you’re making yourself vulnerable. It’s scary to have hope. In every way these characters are all — particularly Benedick and Beatrice, but everyone is — dealing with what are they willing to risk? What are they willing to make vulnerable in order to be their true selves and be happy?”

In what he describes as a precursor to the rom-coms of the 1940s, Cienfuegos puts forward Benedick and Beatrice’s journey as the blueprint for comedic love stories, from the screwball comedies of the 1940s to the modern comic love movies. The iconic couple can even be seen in such classic sitcom characters as Sam and Diane in “Cheers.” 

“They’ve constructed these really elaborate masks to protect their hearts,” Cienfuegos says. “And what happens in the play is they slowly, slowly, slowly, without a lot of excitement or enthusiasm, slowly lower the mask just to try to see if they’d be willing to let the other person in. The joy of the play is watching the whole process happen.”

This production is set in Sicily just after the island was freed from fascists by U.S. forces in World War II, a move that lets them incorporate swing music and 1940s costuming. Cienfuegos wanted to make the concept of soldiers returning from a victorious battle much more specific in terms of who they were, what the battle was and who the enemy was. The original play takes place in Messina, Sicily, and that setting still felt perfect when moved to the 1940s.

“I thought it’d be wonderful if the play takes place at a time where there was a dark cloud over this part of the world, but now the clouds have parted and we’ve got some joy to celebrate,” Cienfuegos says. 

“That way we could make all of the soldiers U.S. forces so that the American audience could relate. I can also use the nostalgia that people have with the music and that time and the events of that war.”

He’ll be combining swing music with period Italian music. During the masked ball in the second act, the characters will dance a tarantella, a choice designed to celebrate the Italian summer. He says the dance is going to be an exciting moment in the show.

And while he didn’t plan it before rehearsals, the specificity of the setting lent itself to character choices by the actors that have contributed to the show’s originality. Joshua Bitton, who plays Benedick, is from Queens, New York, while Stanley Andrew Jackson III hails from Houston.

“It started making me think that we’re setting this thing in World War II, so these army units were made up of people from all over the country,” says Cienfuegos, who is now having cast members speak with their own accents from Queens to Texas to the Appalachia. “It starts to take on this very familiar feeling. I worried about whether it would be too much of an imposition, but the language is just soaring with these actors bringing their own thing to it. It takes on a personality and specificity that pulls it out of what people might expect to hear when they see a Shakespeare play.”

Setting the play in a specific time and specific place, Cienfuegos says, allows the truth of those settings to inform everything in a way that becomes exciting.

The play takes place in approximately 20 different locations, so Cienfuegos says the design team has created a lot of furniture and scenery on wheels that are moved into place like a jigsaw puzzle.

“It is in keeping with the madcap, screwball approach that I’m taking,” Cienfuegos says. 

“I’m being very fun and whimsical with the whole production so when we go from the front of Leonato’s house to the church to the guardhouse where Dogberry and various watchmen stand, it’s all created in a really sort of quick and fun and kinetic way.”

Other performers include Erika Soto as Beatrice, Alexandra Hellquist as Hero, Wes Mann as Dogberry, Tony Pasqualini as Leonato, and Fredrick Stuart as Don Pedro. The scenic design is done by Angela Balogh Calin, lighting design by Ken Booth, composing and sound design by Christopher Moscatiello and costuming by Christine Cover Ferro. Chloe Willey is the production stage manager.

Between the story and the setting, “Much Ado About Nothing” is a highly accessible play for audiences, even those unfamiliar with Shakespeare. It’s mostly in prose, and the plot is fun and easy to follow.

“Some people think they’re going to be forced to drink some medicine,” Cienfuegos says. “This is going to be wacky and fun, and the characters are going to be clearly identifiable. With me, the No. 1 job with Shakespeare is clearing out all the brush so that the audience can really understand and follow it.”

Cienfuegos says he enjoys getting into rehearsals and making a mess to see what they can come out with.

“The process is actually having to get in there,” Cienfuegos says. “You take apart a play and work on it beat by beat, which to me is the most joyful part. We have a bunch of actors, we have a text, and we’re just sort of working through it, messing with it and finding out what every little thing means. That’s just pure joy to me. I feel like if there’s a heaven, it’s an endless rehearsal.”

“Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare

WHEN: Various times Thursdays to Sundays. Previews February 5 to February 10; performances February 11 to March 12

WHERE: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Boulevard, Pasadena

COST: $25; $18 for students

INFO: 626-356-3100, anoisewithin.org

Fall Arts Preview

Venues roll out the red carpet for the arts this fall

By Bridgette M. Redman

From live music series to musicals to world-premiere theatrical works to paintings classic and modern, the arts organizations in the Pasadena area are rolling out artistic works designed to comfort, challenge and entertain this fall and winter.

With the world a different place than it was even two years ago, arts organizations are inviting audiences in to take in art and to ask the questions great and small while connecting with others. 

Here are some of the events taking place between now and the end of the year.

A Noise Within

3352 E. Foothill Boulevard, Pasadena

626-356-3100, anoisewithin.org

After the musical version of George Orwell’s “An Animal Farm” closes on October 2, A Noise Within is returning to August Wilson’s 10-play American Century Cycle, with the final installment, “Radio Golf,” from October 16 to November 13. Set in the 1990s, it examines the high price we pay for progress as Pittsburgh’s first Black mayoral candidate is faced with choices between his integrity and his personal aspirations. 

Then, from December 3 to December 23, the theater’s co-artistic directors will bring back a Pasadena favorite — Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

Alex Theatre

216 N. Brand Boulevard, Glendale

818-243-ALEX (2539), alextheatre.org

Alex Theatre brings diverse shows to its stage, from music to comedy to opera to musicals. This fall, it’s launching its programming with Lokillo Florez on October 1, followed by the Domination Tour featuring Gigi de Lana and the Gigi Vibes on October 15.

Come November, it will be home to four events. November 5 will see the Wild Honey Foundation and Jody Stephens presenting “Big Star #1,” a benefit celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Big Star “#1” album that will support the Autism Healthcare Cooperative. Performers include Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and Mike Mills of R.E.M. 

On November 12, the Asian Hall of Fame will induct new members including Hiroshima, Olympian Chloe Kim, Daniel Ho and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, among others. 

Then, the Musical Theatre Guild will present “Brigadoon” on November 14, the musical about a mystical land that only appears once every 100 years for a single day. On November 16 and November 17 there will be a tribute concert to singer and composer Hayko.

December heads east with The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles presents “A Motown Holiday” on December 17 and December 18.

Antaeus Theatre Company

110 E. Broadway, Glendale

818-506-5436, antaeus.org

What happens when a modern playwright riffs on 15th century morality plays? Find out with “Everybody” through October 17 at Antaeus Theatre Company, a troupe that explores classics and new takes on classics. In it, five of the actors don’t find out what their roles are until a lottery takes place at the beginning of the play. In October they will also release a free podcast with three of their actors performing “Changeling” by Jennifer Rowland.

Boston Court Pasadena

70 N. Mentor Avenue, Pasadena

626-683-6801, bostoncourtpasadena.org

Whether you want theater, music or film, Boston Court Pasadena is the place to be this fall. It is developing two new works on its stages, both in workshop stage. The first is “Escapegoat: A Workshop Presentation” from October 27 to November 6, which has three actors playing humans, tortoises and goats in an eco-parable set on Galapagos Islands. 

Then, on November 12 and November 13, it will host “Dojyoji: A New Opera Workshop” exploring the tragic Japanese love tale newly conceived by Kentaro Kameyama and featuring piano, two singers and Kameyama’s fashion designs. 

Its live music series includes world-class cellist Anita Graef on October 15 and the Nolan Shaheed Quintet on December 3. Boston Court is also hosting a series of National Theatre Live film screenings of British theatrical performances. October 1 features Kit Harington (“Game of Thrones”) starring in Shakespeare’s “Henry V”; October 6 is “Jack Absolute Flies Again” by Richard Bean; and October 15, October 22, October 29 and October 30 are “Frankenstein” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, who switch off the roles of monster and creator (Boston Court will alternate shows of Version A and Version B).

The Huntington

1151 Oxford Road, San Marino


The Huntington has had a lot to celebrate this fall with the return of “The Blue Boy” by Gainsborough, one of its best-known pieces, which is now being paired with Kehinde Wiley’s modern interpretation of it. Also showing throughout the fall is “Gee’s Bend: Shared Legacy,” made up of quilts and prints celebrating the work of the Alabama Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers’ Collective. Another temporary exhibit on display throughout the fall is “Method and Material: Tempera Painting in Focus” that looks at the history of tempera.

Two new exhibitions open this fall. On October 22, The Huntington will open “Crafting a Garden: Inside the Creation of Liu Fang Yuan,” which explores the intricacies of Chinese gardens through models, photographs, tools and videos. On December 10, it will welcome the traveling exhibition “Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts,” which explores Walt Disney’s fascination with European art and the use of French motifs in Disney films and theme parks. 

Luckman Fine Arts Complex

Cal State LA, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles

323-343-6600, luckmanarts.org

At the gateway to the San Gabriel Valley, The Luckman Fine Arts Complex sees the Yamma Ensemble visit on October 2. The internationally renowned musical group plays an array of music that sticks with the Middle East. 

Singing fado — a traditional Portuguese genre — Mariza “embraces the new while never forsaking the old.” She comes to town October 7.

Legendary actress Isabella Rossellini brings her one-woman show “Darwin’s Smile” to the complex October 8 and October 9. The performance is said to “reconcile two worlds that are often at opposite ends: art and science.”

Diva Gloria Gaynor will offer a career-spanning set, including her Grammy-winning hit “I Will Survive,” on November 5. She has scored a hit in five decades. 

CocoRosie blends indie, hip-hop, pop, blues, opera and electronica to develop an avant-garde sound. The group performs November 19. 

Finally, Dionne Warwick will bring her hits — among them “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Walk on By,” “Say a Little Prayer,” “A House is Not a Home,” “Alfie,” “Heartbreaker” and Déjà Vu” — on December 17.  


300 E. Green Street, Third Floor, Pasadena

626-844-7703, muse-ique.com

An organization that travels Los Angeles to pioneer new musical experiences through curated live music events and outreach programs, its only show in Pasadena this fall will feature “Grand Avenue” at The Huntington on October 6 in a concert that explores the worldwide influences of Downtown Los Angeles’ earliest days to now.

Norton Simon Museum

411 W. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena

626-449-6840, nortonsimon.org

From the masters to the moderns, Norton Simon Museum has memorable exhibitions planned for this fall. On loan from LACMA, Paul Gaugin’s “The Swineherd” will be on view until November 14 along with other pieces of post-Impressionist art. Opening October 14 and running through February 13 are the work of six women lithography artists working in ink, stone and paper. All six women visited Los Angeles in the 1960s on a two-month fellowship to study lithography.

From October 21 to January 30, “a” brings together for the first time (on loan from London’s National Gallery) Pablo Picasso’s “Woman with a Book” next to the painting that inspired it — Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ “Madame Moitessier.”

Open Fist Theatre Company

Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles

323-882-6912, openfist.org

A company that has worked to spread social awareness through art since its founding in 1990, Open Fist presents a “This Week This Week” sketch show about the week’s news every Thursday through November. Starting October 1 and running through November 5, it will present the world premiere of Catherine Butterfield’s “To the Bone” about the “hard girls” in high school — 20 years later when the party is over. Combining family, genetics and baseball, this is a dark comedy about the vagaries of life.

Pasadena Playhouse

39 S. El Mollino Avenue, Pasadena

626-356-7529, pasadenaplayhouse.org

The season opener, a new play by Martyna Majok, continues until October 9. “Sanctuary City” explores the American Dream from the viewpoint of those who were brought here in their youth and must fight to become citizens in the only land they know. 

Pasadena Symphony Ambassador Auditorium

131 S. St. John Avenue, Pasadena

626-793-7172, pasadenasymphony-pops.org

Indoors and out, the Pasadena Symphony has a diverse menu of symphonic classic and pop music this fall, culminating in the ever-popular Holiday Candlelight Concert on December 17 at All Saints Church.

Leading up to that is the Symphony Series featuring Mozart and Saint-Saens on October 22 and Tchaikovsky and Sibelius on November 12.

On December 3 and December 4, the Women’s Committee of the Pasadena Symphony Association will host the 55th annual Holiday Look in Home Tour, showcasing tours of the architecture and gardens of four homes with symphony musicians providing live holiday music in the background.