Very cool: Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

Kudos to Jason Morehead over at Opus for putting together a review roundup for Joss Whedon’s previously under-the-radar Shakespeare adaptation. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, but now I’m genuinely excited. I hadn’t previously checked out who was in it, and I have to say that the primary appeal for me is to see that cast to that play. I’m particularly keen to see Alexis Denisoff and Amy Acker as Benedick and Beatrice, respectively. The frisson, for Whedon fans, is that Denisoff and Acker played the star-crossed Wesley and Fred on Angel. As much as Whedon loves screwing over fan-fave characters, it’s kind of sweet for him to cast the performers for one of his most infamous doomed duos as a pair for whom things pretty much work out — with plenty of barbs, bumps, bruises, and murder requests along the way, natch.☕

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About tardishobbit

Reads. Writes. Watches movies. Occasionally stirs from chair. Holds an advanced degree in heuristic indolence. View all posts by tardishobbit

19 responses to “Very cool: Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

  • jubilare

    Well this is out of the blue. I haven’t even heard of this, but I am intrigued. One of the things that, despite the fact that I love his work in most other regards, often makes me want to strangle Whedon, is his apparent inability to allow any couple to remain happy/intact. His treatment of my favorite characters in Serenity almost made me break my television when I saw it. I am still a bit bitter about that. …maybe more than a bit.
    Therefore, seeing him choose this play is a surprise, and I’m very curious to see what he does with it.

    • mjschneider

      I’m torn on Whedon’s ruthlessness. On the one hand, I much prefer seeing happy endings for characters I’ve come to care about. On the other hand, I think Whedon has a harsh worldview, and I think that the harsh treatment some of his characters receive is artistically honest and, well, realistic. I’d probably begrudge him that if he didn’t inject hope into the overall arc of most of his stuff, but hope does persist, even if there are tragedies. But those tragedies are things to be overcome, not ends in themselves, which is probably why I can live with something like the Fred/Illyria storyline or Wash’s death.

      I’m excited to see what he does with it, too. Almost everything he’s directed that I’ve seen is something he wrote or cowrote. This is his first time taking on someone else’s work in which the amount of liberty he has with the material is somewhat restricted by the fact that it’s… freaking Shakespeare. :)

    • jubilare

      Ah, but there’s a lot of latitude for interpreting Shakespeare! ;) In fact, our local Shakespeare company does so much interpretation that I find myself hungering for a bare-bones production where it’s just the actors, the audience and the text!

      The summer production this year is Much Ado About Nothing, interestingly enough. …as a musical…
      I will let that sink in a bit ;)
      It is actually quite good, against all expectation, and works. There are some advantages to living in a very music-oriented city. But even so, I’d like something a little closer to canon once in a while.

      I am really looking forward to seeing what Whedon does with this, though.

  • jubilare

    I can’t recall if I have given you my Whedon-rant before or not. If I have, please forgive my repetition.

    I like the fact that Whedon’s worldview is not disneyish. I like that he is harsh, that he allows characters to suffer and lives to end tragically. What I am not ok with is his consistency. I have not seen all of his work, or even most of it, so perhaps I am being too hard on him, but I feel like I can point to characters in his stories and say “you’re doomed. Sorry” just because they happen to be the ones I like most, or they have some kind of happiness even in a storm.

    If there was more variety, I would not be so frustrated by Whedon. What I can’t take is the predictable character immolation. Reality is that tragedies happen, and so do miracles. There are loves that end badly and there are loves that persist. It is as if Whedon exists in reaction to overly rosy worldviews, which is good, but he reacts too far in the other direction.

    Wash… that, I take personally. I shouldn’t, but I do. The rest of my complaint is not so much personal as aesthetic.

  • jubilare

    I didn’t have enough time to really finish the above comment, so consider this a supplement.

    I will take Firefly as an example of what frustrates me about Whedon. It is as if he looked at the cast and said “who, of the expendable characters, can I kill for the most impact.” That isn’t realistic, that’s an emotional equation.

    My brother would argue with me over this, but I consider the new BSG more realistic because I get surprised. I am always in doubt about who will survive and who won’t, who will be broken and who will rise again, what the character arcs will be. BSG is filled with doubt, and doubt must exist for fear and hope to exist. Whedon, on the other hand, has almost never surprised me in any of the work I have seen. It is darn near fatalistic, and that leaves me frustrated and largely without hope. The theoretical existence of hope in his work is empty if I know that the hope only applies to certain characters and certain situations. Does that make sense?

    That makes it sound like I hate his work. I don’t. Artistically, I love it. I love the kinds of stories he tells and the threads he weaves into them. I enjoy watching it, as long as I am able to keep myself from growing too attached to the characters I know are in for it. And yet, I can’t trust him as a storyteller because of his patterns. If he surprised me more often, both pleasantly and unpleasantly, I would be happier with him. Maybe he is learning to do that. I haven’t seen his more recent work, other than Avengers (and that did surprise me once or twice), so I could be missing a lot. I haven’t seen much of his recent work because I don’t trust him.

    Long rant. I am sorry. I obviously feel strongly about this, and it is because I love his work despite this big frustration. I hope all of that makes some sense. I’m not trying to attack him or anyone who disagrees with me about his work. My brother and I have argued back and forth over this ground many a time. Le sigh…

    • mjschneider

      I had never previously considered his penchant for killing fan-faves in the way you frame it, and it’s a good observation. If you can’t trust the storyteller because the storyteller adheres too rigidly to unpleasant patterns, then, well, I think that’s a fair point. And I get that you probably wouldn’t care so much if you didn’t otherwise really like and admire Whedon. I tend to be the same way: I am frequently more disappointed by films (or artists) from which I expected more than those from which I expected little. That makes sense to me.

      Fatalism as a theme is something with which I wrestle as a person of faith. I tend to greatly dislike stories in which “destiny” wins out over personal choice, yet the faith to which I subscribe dictates that nothing is out of the control of its Creator. Denominations have been duking it out for centuries over the nature of predestination, and while I find the arguments to be exhausting, they are important. Framing Whedon’s ruthlessness as a kind of invariable logos places it squarely in the crosshairs of one of the most troubling ongoing debates I’ve encountered. And seeing as how free will is one of Whedon’s own pet themes, it’s especially striking. I don’t have anything to add at this moment, but I’m going to consider deeply what you’ve said in this context.

  • Craig

    >>From Morehead’s roundup: “Catherine Shoard calls it “the first great contemporary Shakespeare since Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet”<<"

    Invoking Da Baz really isn't a selling point for me, but I suspect Whedon's interpretation will be worlds apart from Luhrman's – to say nothing of the Branagh Much Ado featuring Keanu "Dude" Reeves. Looking forward to it.

    • mjschneider

      Never saw Luhrmann’s R&J. Judging from its fans’ hysterical apologetics at the time, the biggest selling point was Leo DiCaprio’s hawtness. And I actually liked Branagh’s Much Ado, though Reeves was a bit miscast. Michael Keaton as Dogberry balanced that out just fine.

  • jubilare

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer was my training ground in Whedon-patterns, and I have yet to see anything of his that deviates greatly from those patterns. I need to watch some of his newer stuff, though, to see if he surprises me. I certainly want him to surprise me!

    That’s a tough question for me, as well. I prefer the idea of freewill, but I cannot deny the mention of predestination in the Bible. As both are mentioned, I tend to think that the matter is a bit beyond human comprehension (maybe far beyond it). I also believe that God is beyond time, which means that our linear understanding of the Universe is limiting to our comprehension.

    As in many things (though not all), I look to a passage of George MacDonald’s for guidance.

    “‘Ah! But you must beware, Curdie, how you say of this man or that man
    that he is traveling beastward. There are not nearly so many going
    that way as at first sight you might think. When you met your father
    on the hill tonight, you stood and spoke together on the same spot; and
    although one of you was going up and the other coming down, at a little
    distance no one could have told which was bound in the one direction
    and which in the other. Just so two people may be at the same spot in
    manners and behaviour, and yet one may be getting better and the other
    worse, which is just the greatest of all differences that could
    possibly exist between them.'”

    From that, as well as the words of Jesus, I take it that predestination or freewill should not effect my treatment of myself or others. Either way I do not know the fate of any, nor where they are in relation to God. That’s why I find it rather heartbreaking that the church chooses to fragment over such questions.
    Is it an important question? Perhaps. Is it essential? I think not. Ultimately predestination/freewill is a matter for God, and between us and God, not something that should influence our interactions with our fellows, of whom we know so little.

    Does that make sense?

    • mjschneider

      It does indeed make sense. Filing predestination under “important but not essential” is pretty much my modus operandi, at least when it comes to doctrinal debates. As a general philosophical concept, it’s one that cuts a lot closer to my heart. It doesn’t affect my interactions with others, but it occupies quite a bit of my headspace.

    • jubilare

      It cuts close to my heart as well, though less so now than it used to. It contributed to the breaking of my faith and a lengthy severe depression.

      Some context:

      I’ve always been intellectually oriented. My faith was largely intellectual, which isn’t a bad thing. For me, though, I could not be satisfied until I literally broke myself against the limits of my own capacity for understanding and reason. Over a year of what I truly feel was hell-on-earth followed, and at the end of it I found myself at a crossroad with nothing but a blind choice before me: God or no God.

      This choice was blind because I was unable to prove, to my own satisfaction, which was the truth. You know which one I chose, and the proof that followed the choice is only proof to me, and it is not intellectually based.

      As I said, I needed this breaking in order to surrender what I needed to surrender, though I only realized this afterward. I struggle a lot with pride, and brokenness seems to be the only real way to deal with that particular sin.

      The fallout of this experience is an appreciation for the mystery of God and Christianity, and an acceptance of my own limits. I am overwhelmed by the freedom that acceptance brings! While I still support intellectual understanding of our faith, another facet has been added to my faith.

      Before, the contradictions, the inexplicable questions, and the things we are not yet meant to know bothered me much more. Now, I am learning, not only to let them go, but to value them. The inexplicable is part of our faith for a reason. The magnum mysterium serves a great purpose.

      I know all of this doesn’t make the question of predestination vs. freewill less troubling. Perhaps it is even supposed to trouble us. My point is a little to the side of that and is simply “learn when you are holding on too tightly.” If you must wrestle with this, then wrestle with it. There’s good that comes from the struggle and the pursuit. I don’t, for a moment, believe that God wants us to blindly accept everything relating to our faith. That would be to stagnate. But let part of that wrestling involve looking at the empty space in the question, the unknowns in the equation, and realizing that if you cannot solve it, it still has a solution, and a solution created by a God that is Good.

  • mjschneider

    I know all of this doesn’t make the question of predestination vs. freewill less troubling. Perhaps it is even supposed to trouble us. My point is a little to the side of that and is simply “learn when you are holding on too tightly.” If you must wrestle with this, then wrestle with it. There’s good that comes from the struggle and the pursuit. I don’t, for a moment, believe that God wants us to blindly accept everything relating to our faith. That would be to stagnate. But let part of that wrestling involve looking at the empty space in the question, the unknowns in the equation, and realizing that if you cannot solve it, it still has a solution, and a solution created by a God that is Good.

    That’s a lovely testimony, and I entirely empathize with your experience. Something similar happened to me. For me, the answer (rather, an answer, since it might yet evolve throughout my lifetime) was that faith is an irrational thing, and the very concept of God dictates that any god truly beyond human understanding would also appear to human beings as irrational. I value my intellect, and I value approaching questions of faith thoughtfully, but I don’t mistake being thoughtful about my faith with being logical about it. I reserve my logic for applying my faith to the world; believing itself is a process I let my heart govern.

    • jubilare

      Faith is certainly irrational, if one pursues logic far enough. Even faith in logic is irrational, as ironic as that sounds. I find it interesting that you separate thoughtfulness in faith from logic in faith, though. Can you explain that? Or is it a bit beyond description? (we are venturing into intellectual no-man’s-land, here).

      I am highly amused at how far we have bunny-trailed from the topic of this post.

  • mjschneider

    Faith is certainly irrational, if one pursues logic far enough. Even faith in logic is irrational, as ironic as that sounds. I find it interesting that you separate thoughtfulness in faith from logic in faith, though. Can you explain that? Or is it a bit beyond description? (we are venturing into intellectual no-man’s-land, here).
    I am highly amused at how far we have bunny-trailed from the topic of this post.

    Sorry for the delayed response. Lots of stuff on my plate right now. But I’ll follow any trail, so long as it promises to be fruitful and interesting!

    I don’t know that my division of thoughtfulness from logic is indescribable. There may be other, more useful terms for what I mean. While I know that logic only answers to logic, and that logic is a human invention, it is because logic is a human invention that I think it is both inadequate to the questions posed by religious faith and the only adequate response to the questions posed by human reason. Trying to wrap the human mind around God is about as effective as trying to magnify human concerns to Godlike stature.

    I can think about God and faith all I want, but none of the answers, on a fundamental level, will make sense in a logical way. They may make intuitive, instinctual sense, and I can express my intuitions in the language of reason, but at the end of the day, I cannot in good conscience or intellectual honesty rationalize my faith-based premises.

    By the same token, dealing with complex issues in everyday human interaction on the basis of illogical, irrational leaps and intuitions will only breed frustration. Logic is a convenient way for everyone to speak the same thinking-language. No two subjective experiences are the same, but reason gives us a way to rise above that (however imperfectly) and discuss things in the same terms. At least, that’s the ideal.

    Faith is antipathetic toward reason, and vice versa. The two can inform each other, but neither is adequate to the demands of each. Intellectual honesty demands that I refrain from relying upon human logic to justify faith, and faith demands that I apply my reason to its inscrutable logic. These processes aren’t the same thing, though.

    Does any of that make sense?

    • jubilare

      I think so. I think I get what you mean. Sometimes I am not sure language helps or hinders us more in discussions such as this. To me, logic is one of those things that is good but that has limits and therefore dangerous if those limits are not recognized.

      I think where I may differ a little from you is here: “Faith is antipathetic toward reason, and vice versa. The two can inform each other, but neither is adequate to the demands of each.”

      It is also possible that I agree with you, just from a different direction/perspective, which is interesting.

      I believe that reason and logic are not at all antipathetic towards faith and religion. I believe that, had we the understanding and perspective of God, there would be no conflict in the many ways of understanding. Everything would connect and flow. The contradictions and failures of logic that we run into are manifestations of our limited understanding and ken. I think it is also Good that we have a limited understanding and ken, but that is a different train of thought.

      My logic tells me that I am not God, and that I have severe limits in what I can understand, comprehend and see. Therefore there are mysteries that I cannot solve. It bothers me (something I should probably let go) when people argue too much over questions and contradictions as if they have all of the facts. Logic is wonderful, but it’s is too slim a reed to hold anyone’s weight.

    • mjschneider

      I think we agree from different directions. I continually try to make a distinction between human logic and God’s order. I’m with you on the notion that if we had the understand and perspective of God, there would be no conflict between the ways of understanding. But since we are necessarily limited in our understanding, however we define rationality, reason, logic, etc., it is not going to perfectly overlap with truth as defined by a God. Trying to use our heads to reconcile these things is an exercise in futility; it has always been so, and I expect that it always will.

      I use the word “antipathetic” because, in my experience, relying on reason in contemplating questions of faith has been toxic. Likewise, any discussion/debate I have with other people (that is, rational human beings) that depends upon premises that are dictated by a leap of faith tends to go sideways very quickly. It’s important to me that I define (and separate, if necessary) my pretexts carefully in order to avoid doing spiritual damage to myself or damaging my relations with other people.

      None of this is to say that this way of thinking will remain static; it’s just as apt to evolve. But the last few years have been far healthier for me overall than most of the rest of my life, and I’m interested in keeping it that way until circumstances necessitate a reconsideration.

  • jubilare

    That makes good sense to me. Most of my struggles with logic have been internal, and perhaps that is why we come at this from different angles. Not all tools are suited to all tasks.

    • mjschneider

      Indeed. I believe Stephen Jay Gould coined the term “non-overlapping magisteria.” I wouldn’t say that it always works as a rule, but as a general guideline, it’s worked pretty well for me.

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