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PHOTO: Leif Zurmuhlen

Free William

Saratoga Shakespeare Company brings a stylish take on the Bard to downtown Saratoga Springs

By Shawn Stone


Three venturesome grey ducks waddle daintily into the northern fringes of the audience watching Much Ado About Nothing in Congress Park, and stop. One quacks. The city’s powers-that-be don’t want anyone feeding the birds but, clearly, the birds are cruising for a snack. In short order, they are disappointed. The trio turn tail and waddle back into the water by the park’s war memorial.

On this warm Tuesday night, on the eve of the opening of the Saratoga Race Course, there is no lack of things to do in bustling downtown Saratoga Springs. Restaurants are busy; outdoor patios are full; people window-shop (or actually shop) along Broadway; and kids ride the carousel. A large audience have instead brought their lawn chairs and blankets to Congress Park to see a play. Yes, it’s free—but it’s also good.

You see, the large crowds that turn out for Saratoga Shakespeare Company’s summer performances in Congress Park aren’t there to picnic. Except for the odd kid (or journalist), no one pays attention to wandering waterfowl. Folks are there to enjoy the theater, and there’s plenty about this Shakespeare-in-the-park experience to enjoy.

The company does their bit to make this possible. As their Web site states, with their “superior” sound system, they can accommodate up to 1,000 people in the audience. It’s true. While I don’t think there were quite that many people on the lawn, the sound was superb—you can hear the actors clearly as far away as the Canfield Casino.

Over their eight seasons in the Spa City, Saratoga Shakespeare have performed, for the most part, comedies, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, The Comedy of Errors and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). And they’ve earned kudos from local critics for it. While this makes sense—who really wants King Lear on a warm summer evening after, say, mojitos on an outdoor restaurant patio?—it’s also more demanding, because, well, comedy is more demanding. That’s why this wonderfully timed, cleverly staged production is so rewarding.

Much Ado About Nothing is the story of one relationship that almost goes horribly awry because of familial envy and unjust jealousy, and another that, thanks to pride and spite, almost doesn’t happen at all.

The noble Claudio, deputy to Don Pedro, woos and wins the hand of lovely young Hero. Malcontented bastard Don John, half-brother of noble Don Pedro, decides to prevent the match. Meanwhile, Benedick, another deputy to Don Pedro, swears early on that he will never marry. Of course, this prompts his friends to set in motion a plot to see him married to Hero’s cousin, Beatrice. This is perfect, because Beatrice doesn’t think all that much of Benedick, or marriage, either.

The wily Bard has written something for everyone. The Claudio-Hero plot provides the melodrama, with flowery protestations of love giving way to fiery proclamations of hate. It’s an accessible emotional hook for the audience; it is, however, easy to forget that it’s all “much ado about nothing” and go overboard with the drama (as director Kenneth Branaugh did in his 1990s film version).

That doesn’t happen here, thanks to the cast and director William A. Finlay. When Don Pedro and Claudio (Andy Place and Brian Nemiroff, respectively) are duped into behaving dishonorably, they exhibit as much sorrow as vengeance. (Shannon Rafferty as the aptly-named ingénue-heroine nicely balances womanly passion in her scenes with Nemiroff’s Claudio and girlish enthusiasm in the farcical comic scenes.)

The Benedick-Beatrice romance delivers the Shakespearian wit and wordplay; Tim Dugan (as Benedick) and Rebecca McHugh (as Beatrice) banter beautifully as two people who couldn’t find happiness with a map on their own, and clearly need the knockabout intervention of friends to get together.

Finally, there is the deliciously lowbrow humor offered up by the constable, Dogberry (Chris Rickett), and his sidekicks. The audience very much enjoyed the bad puns and “ass” jokes (and rightly so).

Saratoga Shakespeare Company have cultivated significant community support, both public and private, for their productions. This year, a grant from the Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust allowed the company to build a new stage, which will be their “permanent, portable playing space.” It’s impressive for the variety and flexibility of action it can facilitate; it even has a trap door (though this is left unused in the current show). It’s reasonable to expect that the company will continue to bring a little culture to the downtown scene for years to come.

The crowd certainly seemed pleased on this evening. At the end of the play, after generous applause, the actors went forth into the audience, literally hat-in-hand, looking for donations. They didn’t go away disappointed.


The final performances of Saratoga Shakespeare Company’s production of Much Ado About Nothing are tonight (Thursday, July 26) through Saturday (July 28) at 6 PM and Sunday (July 29) at 2 PM in Congress Park. For more information, visit





HATS OFF TO SARATOGA (Broadway, Saratoga Springs, Fri-Sat: Bluz House Rockers, Sarah Pedinotti Band, Pangaea, Sirsy, Big Medicine, Tequila Mockingbirds, Soul Session, Racing City Chorus, the GTOs.

SARATOGA PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (Saratoga State Park, Saratoga Springs, tickets: 476-1000). Sat: the Moody Blues. Mon: EQXFest with 311, Matisyahu, Perry Farrell’s Satellite Party, TV on the Radio, the Nightwatchman, Shiny Toy Guns, the Urgency, Lughead, the Loyalty, Maggie Mayday, Sunset Aside.

UPBEAT ON THE ROOF (Rooftop patio, Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, 580-8080). All shows at 7 PM. Fri: Sonny and Perley with Brian Melick.



9 MAPLE AVENUE (9 Maple Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-CLUB). Fri: New Regime. Sat: Keith Pray’s Soul Jazz Revival.

THE ALLEY BAR (Long Alley Road, Saratoga Springs, 587-9766). Tue: karaoke with Mark the Shark.

BACKSTREET BILLIARDS (63 Putnam St., Saratoga Springs, 583-2503). Fri: Vital Remains, Unmerciful, Disciples of Berkowitz.

BRINDISI’S RESTAURANT (390 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-6262). Thu, Sun: Al Bruno. Fri: the Accents. Sat: the Heaters.

CAFFE LENA (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 583-0022). Thu: open mic (7 PM). Fri: Jo Henley. Sat: Boulder Acoustic Society. Sun: Jonathan Whitton.

CIRCUS CAFÉ (392 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 583-1106). Thu: open mic with Nate Solomon. Sat: karaoke with A-Man Productions; DJ Tommy. Wed: the Rainbow Room Jazz Trio.

THE CLUB HOUSE (30 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 580-0686). Fri-Sat: DJ Daniel Van D.

HORSESHOE INN (1 Gridley St., Saratoga Springs, 587-4909). Fri: the Audiostars. Sat: the Accents.

IT’S CONFIDENTIAL (38 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 584-0130). Thu: Johnny Rabb and the Jailhouse Rockers. Fri: TS Ensemble. Wed: Latin night.

KING’S TAVERN (241 Union Ave, Saratoga Springs, 581-7090). Fri: Grainbelt.

MOUZON HOUSE (1 York St., Saratoga Springs, 226-0014). Thu: Joe Gitto/Mo Rancourt duo. Fri: Adrian Cohen Trio. Sat: Mo Rancourt Trio. Tue: Sarah Pedinotti and the Mouzon House Band. Wed: Colin McCouy and Peter Davis.

MY WAY CAFÉ (Route 9, Malta, 899-4196). Sun: Brian “D”, Jimmy Granitto, Nick Barbera and Jack Wyld sing Sinatra.

ONE CAROLINE STREET (1 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 587-2026). Thu: Dave Payette Duo. Sat: Rob Lindquist Trio. Sun: Joe Gitto. Mon: Sarah Pedinotti Band. Tue: Dave Payette. Wed: Tequila Mockingbirds.

PANZA’S RESTAURANT (Route 9P, Saratoga Lake, 584-6882). Sat: Peter Van Keuren.

SARATOGA CITY TAVERN (19 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 581-3230). Fri: the Stillwell Project.

SIRO’S (168 Lincoln Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-4030). Thu-Wed: piano bar with Roger Morris. Thu: the Accents. Fri: Blue Hand Luke. Sat: Barrence Whitfield. Sun: the Lustre Kings. Mon: Woof with Ernie Munich. Wed: Wylder.

SPERRY’S (30 ½ Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 584-9618). Fri-Sat: Phil Drum and friends.

VAPOR NIGHTCLUB (Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, 342 Jefferson St., Saratoga Springs, 584-2110). Thu: the Original Family Stone. Sat: Abba: the Tour.

VENUE NIGHT CLUB (30 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 580-0686). Fri-Sat: DJ Daniel Van D.



Saratoga Comedy Club, the Inn at Saratoga, 231 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 7/28, 8:30 PM. Joey Novick and Jodi Weiner. $15, $44.95 dinner and show package. 792-5233.


Much Ado About Nothing, Congress Park, Alfred Z. Solomon Stage, Saratoga Springs. 7/26-28, 6 PM; 7/29, 2 PM. Free.



Round Lake Auditorium, 2 Wesley Ave., Round Lake. 7/27, 8 PM: 300 slides on the life and work of Albert Schweitzer, accompanied by the music of Bach on the auditorium’s antique pipe organ. $10. 899-2130.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs. 8/1, 8 PM: The Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Charles Dutoit, will begin their summer season with performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and the Coriolan overture. With soloists and the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. $70-$18. 587-3330.

Spa Little Theater, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs. 7/31, 8 PM: The Claremont Trio will perform works by Beethoven, Brahms and Paul Schoenfield. Call for prices. 587-3330.


Museums & Galleries

Designers Studio, 492 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 584-1977. Recycled steel animals by Rich Kolb. Through 7/31.

Gallery 100, 462 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 580-0818. 30 Years with the New York City Ballet 1977-2007, photographs by Paul Kolnik. Through 7/28.

Gallery on the Hudson, 92 Broad St., Schuylerville, 695-6131. Early and recent paintings by New York City artist Tom Vincent. Also, works by Susan Reynolds and Joyce Vincent. Ongoing.

National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame, 99 S. Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 584-2225. On Browaday, through October 2008. Also, The Dawn of Modern Dance: Music, Myth and Movement, chronicling the lives of Ruth St. Denis and Isadora Duncan; also, works by Frank Ohman. Ongoing. Also, Two Dancers, photography by Charles Bremer and poetry by Robert Bensen. Ongoing. Also, The Moving Figure. Ongoing.

National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, 191 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs. 584-0400. The Voss Family, Artists of American Sporting Life. Through 1/31/08. The Voss Family, Artists of American Sporting Life; also, California Images: The Racing Photography of William Mochon; also, the Racing Art Collection of Charles H. Thieriot Collection. Through 1/31/08.

New York State Military Museum, 61 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs. 581-5100. Worth a Thousand Muskets: Civil War Field Artillery; also, Battleground for Freedom: New York during the Revolutionary War; also, World War II: United for Victory; also, Fiery Trial and Sacrifice: New York and the First World War. Ongoing.

Riverfront Studios, 96 Broad St., Schuylerville. 369-3280. Uncorrupted Horses, a multi-artist show. Through 8/31.

Saratoga Automobile Museum, 110 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs. 587-1935 ext. 20. East of Detroit, and New York Racing exhibit. Ongoing.

Saratoga County Arts Council, Members Exhibition Hall, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 584-4132. Sculpture by R. Jane Bouchard. Through 7/30.

Saratoga County Arts Council, Arts Center Gallery, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 584-4132. Individual View, works by Ann Larsen, Jeffrey Braxton, and David R. White. Through 8/4.

Saratoga Springs History Museum, Canfield Casino, Congress Park, Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Along the Winding River: A Natural and Human History of the Kayderosseras Creek. Through 12/31.

Skidmore College, Schick Art Gallery, 815 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 580-5049. Regis Brodie: A Retrospective. Through 9/23.

Tang Teaching Museum and Gallery, Skidmore College, 815 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 580-8080. Alumni Invitational 2. Through 8/12. Also, West African Masquerade, photographs by Phyllis Galembo. Through 12/29.



Caffe Lena, 47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs. 8/1, 7 PM: Poetry reading by Mimi Moriarty and Frank Desiderio. National slam poet Michael Brown will also give a short reading followed by an open mic hosted by Carol Graser. $2. 583-0022,

Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, Davis Auditorium of Palamountain Hall. 7/26, 8 PM: Novelist Jamaica Kincaid and poet Henri Cole will read. 580-5590.


Lectures & Learning

Saratoga Springs Public Library, 49 Henry St., Saratoga Springs. Friday, 10 AM: Summer Stories: Listen and Learn. Free. 7/28, 11 AM: Kate Winter presents “America’s Female Mark Twain: Marietta Holley.” Free. 584-7860.



The Arts Center, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Registration for summer camps is open: Imagination Rules camp for ages 5-7 and Camp Creativity for ages 8-14 both begin. Also, Etudes Music Studio hosts music workshops for Pre-K-Kindergarten children to begin 7/30. Various fees, call for reservation. 584-4132.

Saratoga Spa State Park, Route 9, Saratoga Springs. 7/26, 11 AM: Preschool Naturalists: Habitats. This one hour class will focus on colors, textures and sounds of the world of nature. Listen to stories, create crafts and play games associated with the outisde world. Ages 3-5. 584-2000 ext. 119.


Farmers Markets

Malta/Saratoga Farmers Market, Dave Meager Community Center, Route 9, Malta. Tuesdays, 11 AM-2 PM.

Saratoga Farmers Market, High Rock Park, High Rock Avenue, Saratoga Springs. Saturdays, 9 AM-1 PM; Wednesdays, 3-6 PM.


Fairs & Festivals

First Friday, downtown Ballston Spa. 8/3, 6-9 PM. Various performances and exhibitions. 884-9913, 885-6302.



Saratoga Phillies Baseball, East Side Recreation Field, 266 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs. 7/27, 7 PM: Little Falls Miners. 7/28, 7 PM: Amsterdam Mohawks. 598-9131.


Saratoga Race Course

Open daily through Sept. 3, except Tuesdays

Location 267 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-6200.

Admission $3 grandstand, $5 clubhouse; children under 12 free; seats are $6 and $7, respectively

Parking $10 per car at the trackside and $5 across the street at the Oklahoma Training Track. General parking is free.

Racing Nine or 10 races a day; pari-mutuel wagering on every race.

First Race Post Time is at 1 PM (except Travers Day, Aug. 26, when it’s at 12:30 PM).

Major Stakes Races The Whitney Handicap (July 28); the Sword Dancer Invitational (Aug. 11); the Alabama Stakes (Aug. 18); the Travers Stakes (Aug. 25); the Woodward (Sept. 1).


Saratoga Shots



Keellyn Cummings with thoroughbred Money Oriented, at Saratoga Race Course, July 23.

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