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Much Ado About Nothing

by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 4250

SHOWING : April 05, 2012 - April 29, 2012



Shakespeare’s second-famous “battle of the sexes” play. Will Benedick, the ever-confirmed bachelor, admit his love for the equally witty and equally independent Beatrice? Will the young lovers Claudio and Hero survive the devious meddling of others? What do you want to bet there will be two weddings in the end?

Director Tony Brown
Margaret Jennifer Acker
Beatrice Erin Considine
Ursula Rachel Frawley
Claudio Jonathan Horne
Benedick Andrew Houchins
Hero Kathryn Lawson
Borachio Vinnie Mascola
Don Pedro Matt Nitchie
Friar Frances/Watch/Balthasar Daniel Parvis
Conrade/Musician Mary Ruth Ralston
Dogberry/Musician Drew Reeves
Antonio/Sexton Jeff Watkins
Verges/Musician Clarke Weigle
Leonato Troy Willis
Don John/Watch Jacob York
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Goldilocks Zone
by Dedalus
Friday, April 27, 2012
“Much Ado About Nothing” is probably my favorite of Shakespeare’s “mature” comedies, and has become more so as I’ve matured myself. I’ve always liked the fine line it walks between potential farce and potential tragedy, the richness of its characters, and, especially, the (im)balance it paints between mature and immature love. I’ve seen dozens of productions, ranging from traditional stagings to those set in 1950’s Cuba or in early 20th century America, and I was part of a not-very-good production set in 1970’s Any-Country. I thought Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film with its Italian-Leather-and-Lace approach one of the best “Shakes-Screen” adaptations, and I’m chomping at the bit to see Joss Whedon’s more modern take later this year.

All of this is a not-very-subtle way of saying I tend to enjoy any production, even when mis-directed or sloppily acted.

Fortunately, the Shakespeare Tavern’s “Original Practice” approach works on every level, hits every comedic note right, and doesn’t shy away from the more tragic potentiality of its Don John plottings. It doesn’t hurt that it’s filled with crackerjack performances that manage to give even my oft-Ado’d eyes moments of surprise.

For those not familiar with this’n, here’s a quick plot recap. The Prince, Don Pedro, and his troops are returning home from suppressing a rebellion by his half-(bastard)-brother Don John. They are invited to spend some needed post-battle R&R at the palatial estate of Leonato. The Prince’s closest friends, Benedick and Claudio, become romantically entangled with Leonato’s niece and daughter, Beatrice and Hero. Meanwhile, the not-quite-reconciled Don John plots to “get back” at his brother by foiling the romances.

Most of the play is concerned with the contrasting Benedick/Beatrice and Claudio/Hero romances. Benedick and Beatrice have a long history of squabbling and “merry-war-making,” and resist their attraction as long as they can. They are, after all, good humored bachelor(ette)s, and shudder at the thought of losing their well-earned independence. Claudio and Hero, on the other hand, are young and in lust-at-first-sight, sharing a tie that is shallow at best, easily foiled at worse.

Throughout, we have a series of plot turns that rely on overheard conversations, deliberately arranged deceptions, and both good-natured and malevolent machinations. Indeed, much ado does ensue over characters “noting” conversations that have been arranged for their eavesdroppings.

In this, more than any other play, the humor is based on character, on what we learn about their natures, on how we soon know them better than they know themselves. And, in more than any other play, the appeal lies in how easily everything can go wrong, in how the “day is saved” not through any plot contrivance, but through the trust and affection the characters ultimately have for each other.

And this, more than anything else, is one of the reasons this production works so well. Here we have a repertory of actors who have worked together often, and who obviously have a lot of off-stage affection for each other. We have a troupe who thoroughly enjoy what they’re doing, and who allow us to thoroughly enjoy watching them do it. They obviously know the text backwards and forwards, they obviously know these characters well, and they obviously find fresh and new “moments of truth” in the convoluted speeches and plotting.

Take note, especially, of Beatrice’s surprised reaction at Don Pedro’s half-serious marriage proposal; even more, take note of Don Pedro’s surprise at his own response to her rejection. Take note of the inherent violence in Beatrice’s appeal for Benedick to “kill Claudio,” after Claudio rejects a seemingly faithless Hero. This has always been an over-the-top angry moment for Beatrice, but here, Erin Considine reinforces her rage with actual physical violence that not only surprises us and Benedick, but herself as well. And, of course, take note as Andrew Houchins’ Benedick finds his whole “reason for being” completely overturned by the realization (rightly or wrongly) that Beatrice loves him. Mr. Houchins and Ms. Considine anchor this production with their wise and witty portrayals, and make us love Benedick and Beatrice as much as they (eventually) love each other.

So, “Much Ado About Nothing” is a distinct feather in the cap of the Tavern’s “Evolution Series.” More “meaty” than the more farcical doings in “Comedy of Errors” or “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but not quite as obscure or dark as the later “As You Like It” or “Winter’s Tale.” It is literally in the “Goldilocks Zone” of the Shakespearean canon, light enough to generate its fair share of laughs and smiles, deep enough to stir an emotional wrench or two, warm enough to make it truly memorable, breezy enough to go down as smoothly as a flagon of Tavern wine.

Much ado, indeed!

-- Brad Rudy (



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