‘Much Ado’ about J.D. Salinger’s missing testicle

August 29, 2013
Kathryn Meisle as Beatrice and Derek Smith as Benedick in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. (Credit: Scott Suchman)
Kathryn Meisle as Beatrice and Derek Smith as Benedick in the Shakespeare Theatre production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” (Credit: Scott Suchman)

J.D. Salinger’s missing testicle almost made me late for “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Let me back up.

Jen Chaney’s review of the much-hyped Salinger book by David Shields and Shane Salerno arrived for me to edit at 6:21 on Tuesday evening, when I had tickets to the Shakespeare Theatre.

Jen had spent the entire day speed-reading and then speed-writing, and our copy desk had already been hounding me for the edited piece since 5:30.

While my wife sent me increasingly perturbed text messages from the theater, I edited as fast as I’ve ever edited. Fortunately, Jen is an extremely fine writer, but all the names and dates had to be checked, factual claims nailed down. Our reviewer had our only copy of the embargoed book, and she was flying off to an important appointment. How exactly would I confirm that Salinger had only one testicle?

These are not typical challenges for an editor in Book World.

In the end, I trusted her, and made it to the theater with three minutes to spare. I threw my half-eaten sandwich in the lobby trashcan and took my seat as the lights came up. Almost immediately, my cellphone began vibrating. And vibrating. Using my wife’s black sweater, I created a little tent over myself and sent a message back to the copy desk that they’d have to figure out any remaining problems on their own. “The play’s the thing!” (Sorry if you were sitting near me.)

And how grateful I am that I made it. This production of “Much Ado About Nothing” is delightful — brilliantly acted on one of the most elegant sets I’ve seen: a 1930s hacienda in Cuba.

It’s not a very original critical point, I know, but I’ve never been so struck by how foundational “Much Ado” is. When Kathryn Meisle as Beatrice and Derek Smith as Benedick trade Shakespeare’s witty lines, you can hear 400 years of romantic comedies stretching out before them — from Jane Austen all the way to “The Mindy Project.” Whenever you see a proud man and a clever woman confidently swear they’ll never fall in love with each other, thank Shakespeare for perfecting the mold of that endlessly recycled plot. (Yes, Chaucer’s “Troilus and Criseyde” predates it by 200 years, but Troilus’s sudden reversal of affections can’t hold a candle to the sustained comic tension between Beatrice and Benedick.)

This is a “Free For All” revival of the award-winning show that ran in December, 2011. (The Washington Post is one of the sponsors of the annual Free For All.) “Much Ado” closes Sept. 1, so make haste. And may you face fewer obstacles than I did!

@RonCharles

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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