In director Ethan McSweeny's staging, which began Nov. 25, two minor characters were renamed "Juan Huevos" and "Jose Frijoles," Spanish surnames indicating "eggs" and "beans," respectively, drawing charges that the theatre was promoting demeaning stereotypes.
The names were recently changed back to the originals — Hugh Oatcake and George Seacoal — following an outcry. Members of the Latino theatre community contacted STC artistic director Kahn about their concerns, and Kahn consulted with McSweeny and restored the original names to the characters.
Kahn told The Post, "There's no need to offend anybody with that. I'm very conscious of what would be offensive. We sort of prided ourselves on not doing anything like that. This was obviously an inadvertent mistake and it certainly has raised my consciousness of what can be a slight."
He said the goal was to create comic equivalents to the old names. He told the Post, "I used to get letters from people about why we would have black and white actors playing members of the same family. Sometimes I wouldn't even answer them because I thought it was their problem. This, I think, is our problem, and it will never happen again."
Actors Phil Hosford and Carlos J. Gonzalez play the comic parts in a cast of mostly non-Latino performers. Among those who criticized the character-name changes were directors Tlaloc Rivas, Jose Carrasquillo and Michael John Garces, and playwright Karen Zacarias, the paper reported. Rivas told Playbill.com in an email, "I was one of several artists in the Latino theatre community who responded to the Shakespeare Theatre Company's current production of Much Ado. As contentious and polarized as our world is, my letter [to Kahn] was intended to express our concerns fully and honestly, in a collegial spirit, not a punitive one. Michael Kahn's choice to change what could be changed was a positive outcome, and marks the beginning of a dialogue that hopefully will continue in a constructive, fruitful manner."
Director McSweeny was reportedly traveling in Peru.
Kathryn Meisle plays Beatrice and Derek Smith is Benedick. Meisle stepped in for a departing Veanne Cox late in rehearsals. The run continues to Jan. 7, 2012, representing a one-week extension at Sidney Harman Hall.
According to earlier STC notes, "McSweeny was inspired by a previous production of Much Ado directed by his co-artistic director Vivienne Benesch at the Chautauqua Theater Company. He was so taken by the concept that he decided to further exploring the setting."
McSweeny said in production notes prior to the launch of the run, "I don't think anyone would claim that Shakespeare's Sicily and Cuba in the '30s are identical, but if you scratch the surface the parallels ring true: including proximal low-level civil conflicts, a society with a strong religious influence, a native sense of machismo, heat, and above all, sexiness. And then there's that great Cuban music and dancing which we will utilize for its maximum celebratory impact."
The cast also includes Floyd King as Verges, Ted van Griethuysen as Dogberry, Bev Appleton as Antonio, Colleen Delany as Ursula, Ryan Garbayo as Claudio, Mark Hairston as Borachio, Rachel Spencer Hewitt as Margaret, Kate Hurster as Hero, Lawrence Redmond as Friar Francis, Matthew Saldivar as Don John, Ashley Smith as Conrade, Adrian Sparks as Leonato and David Emerson Toney as Don Pedro and. Other cast members include Aayush Chandan, Carlos J. Gonzalez, James Graham, Michael Gregory, Phil Hosford, Aaryn Kopp, Matthew McGee, Janel Miley, Jacob Perkins and Andrew Wassenich.
The creative team includes set designer Lee Savage, costume designer Clint Ramos, lighting designer Tyler Micoleau and composer/sound designer Steven Cahill, plus choreographer Marcos Santana, associate choreographer Alison Solomon, stage manager Joseph Smelser and assistant stage manager Elizabeth Clewley.
Casting is by McCorkle Casting, Ltd. with assistance from STC's resident casting director Daniel Neville-Rehbehn. Jenny Lord is assistant director.
For tickets and more information, call (202) 547-1122 or visit ShakespeareTheatre.org.