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Bard in the Yard 

Kevin Connell is trying to start a Spokane Shakespeare Festival, starting with an on-campus rom-com.

click to enlarge Hero (Bethany Hart) and Don Pedro (Chris Rounsville) are ready to cut a rug. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • Hero (Bethany Hart) and Don Pedro (Chris Rounsville) are ready to cut a rug.

Look for the chap in the wee golden chariot. In the trailer for Knights of Badassdom — a movie, filmed in Spokane’s piney woods and scheduled for release next spring, about a bunch of nerds who role-play medieval war games — there’s a guy in chain-mail armor shouting impotent commands, Monty Python-style.

 That’s Kevin Connell: Jesuit priest, principal of Gonzaga Prep, director of this month’s free Much Ado About Nothing, and leader of an effort to start a summer Shakespeare festival in Spokane.

The connection between Knights and Much Ado? Well, if Shakespeare were alive today, he would have enjoyed LARPing. (Think of all those history plays, with their dukes and earls, swords and shields.) What is acting if not live-action role-playing?

And in directing Much Ado — to be performed on a grassy courtyard at Gonzaga Prep over the next three weekends — Connell is aiming at the same kind of inspired lunacy that Knights of Badassdom appears to offer. (He’s also going to play the role of Leonato, the presiding duke in this romantic comedy and a terrific practical joker.)

Look for Kevin Connell at 1:55 in this trailer for The Knights of Badassdom

“For all its silliness, Much Ado is one of Shakespeare’s most realistic comedies,” Connell says. “None of the women dress up in men’s clothes. Nobody goes to bed with somebody in a dark room thinking they’re with someone else. Three-quarters of the language is prose, not poetry. Good people behave abominably to their friends and family.”

Some of the characters are over-fixated on chastity and family honor, which may seem old-fashioned. But as Connell points out, the action provides an alternative to the coarseness of contemporary culture: “It’s one thing to think that Snookie and the Kardashian sisters are floozies — it’s something else to think your fiancee or daughter is.”

Despite its occasional seriousness, Much Ado is filled with drunks, clueless cops, and hypocrites who need exposing. It’s just the kind of Shakespeare comedy that suits a summer evening with a picnic basket and a blanket spread over the grass. And by trimming a couple of scenes, some minor characters and lots of repetition, Connell has concentrated the comedy into just 90 minutes.

Actors — veterans of productions at Interplayers, Spokane Civic Theatre and local universities — will scamper down hillsides, then joke around with the audience. Along with Connell, they’d like to expand the summer Shakespeare offerings around here.

Small towns like Forest Grove and Friday Harbor — and even Lander in Wyoming — have Shakespeare festivals. So does Boise. Why not Spokane?

If the Spokane Shakespeare Company is to launch properly, it’ll have to do what other start-up arts organizations do: form a nonprofit, select a board of directors, hire an artistic director, pursue fundraising, and find a home other than a classroom-encircled hillside on a high school campus.

You can visit them on Facebook, but for now, “the most important thing for people to do is to come and see the show,” Connell says in a recent email, adding that he hopes playgoers will “demonstrate sufficient interest in classical theater in Spokane to warrant the continued development of this project.”

Two summers ago, 600 people showed up on the G-Prep campus for four performances of The Taming of the Shrew. Last summer, Connell was too busy riding around in his little chariot during the filming of Badassdom. This summer, he’s helming Much Ado — and trying to start a summer Shakespeare tradition in Spokane.

Spokane Shakespeare Company presents Much Ado About Nothing • Fri-Sat at 6 pm, Sun at 3 pm, from Aug. 5-21 • Free; donations requested • Gonzaga Prep, central courtyard • 1224 E. Euclid Ave. • [email protected]

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