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Shakespeare Theater Company Much Ado About Nothing

By • Dec 8th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Much Ado About Nothing
Shakespeare Theater Company
Sidney Harman Hall, Washington DC
Through January 1st, 2012
3:00 with one 15-minute intermission
$44-$84
Reviewed December 5th, 2011

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Much Ado About Nothing demonstrates a commendable effort to refresh this well-known comedy; yet, it is not without its faults. William Shakespeare’s “he said/she said” comedy centers on the relationships that form between Hero and Claudio and Beatrice and Benedick. Don Pedro acts as a sort-of human Cupid. He charms Hero on Claudio’s behalf, and he convinces Beatrice’s and Benedick’s friends to scheme together and force the feuding couple into admitting their mutual attraction. All is nearly lost, however, when Don John, the bastard brother of Don Pedro, schemes to ruin the impending marriage between Hero and Claudio.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Much Ado is set on a sugar plantation in 1930’s Cuba. On an aesthetic level, this works beautifully. The set (Lee Savage) is a wonderfully designed courtyard with ample opportunity for eavesdropping. Clint Ramos’ costumes (particularly the ladies’) capture the vibrant colors of a party atmosphere. The lighting (Tyler Micoleau) is well-suited to scene transitions. The music and choreography (Steven Cahill; Marcos Santana) are well-executed and, generally, a lot of fun. Behind this robust style, however, the substance doesn’t fill it out as well as it could.

Director Ethan McSweeny’s choice to set this production in ’30s Cuba never quite settles as the best choice; yet, it insists upon itself. We know we’re in Cuba because several of the original iambs are broken in order to exchange certain “antiquated” words with “words they have in Cuba.” Instead of the Italian lire, we now have pesos. There is a reference to Hedy Lamarr because it’s the ’30s. (What was particularly strange to me about these changes was the decision to leave in “Messina” instead of swapping for “Cuba.”) Even more perplexing is that only two characters out of the entire cast attempt a Cuban accent. It is almost as if these items are purposefully thrown in to overstate the concept. While this concept of romanticized ’30s Cuba may have worked well in decades past (say, around the same time as Guys and Dolls), one has trouble connecting to the multicultural and militarily volatile 1930s Cuban history as a relevant context today. That is, unless the average audience member has a thorough understanding and connection to the history of Cuba–outside of cigars, the Missile Crisis, Elian Gonzales, and rum-and-Cokes.

The other more interesting addition McSweeny brings is the attempt to honestly portray the dramatic elements of Leonato renouncing his daughter, Hero. This occurs after Claudio falsely accuses her of infidelity on their wedding day. There was nothing funny about this scene; it played as a genuine moment of hurt and disgrace. This served as a departure from the comedic eavesdropping scenes earlier in the play. While this contrast was an intriguing idea, it did not fully land within the context of the show as a whole and could have used expansion. Conceptual questions aside, this production makes for an entertaining three hours. The cast is competent. The real standout is Derek Smith, who plays Benedick. Smith’s ease with the language teeters between classical actor and regular guy, which proves a good marriage here.

While it is maybe not the best production of Much Ado, it is certainly more than serviceable. The lush set, the skilled music and choreography, and the genuinely funny moments make for enjoyable viewing.

From the Director

“It’s an interesting challenge to return to STC so close on the heels of The Merchant of Venice and with such a different play as Much Ado. 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 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.”

–Director Ethan McSweeny on returning to direct for Shakespeare Theatre Company, from a Shakespeare Theatre Company press release.

Photo Gallery

Kathryn Meisle as Beatrice and Derek Smith as Benedick Rachel Spencer Hewitt as Margaret and Mark Hairston as Borachio
Kathryn Meisle as Beatrice and Derek Smith as Benedick
Rachel Spencer Hewitt as Margaret and Mark Hairston as Borachio
Floyd King as Verges and Ted van Griethuysen as Dogberry
Floyd King as Verges and Ted van Griethuysen as Dogberry

Photos by Scott Suchman

Cast

  • Don Pedro: David Emerson Toney
  • Don John: Matthew Saldivar
  • Benedick: Derek Smith
  • Claudio: Ryan Garbayo
  • Balthasar: Matthew McGee
  • Conrade: Ashley Smith
  • Borachio: Mark Hairston
  • Leonato: Adrian Sparks
  • Antonio: Bev Appleton
  • Hero: Kate Hurster
  • Beatrice: Kathryn Meisle
  • Margaret: Rachel Spencer Hewitt
  • Ursula: Colleen Delany**
  • Friar Francis: Lawrence Redmond
  • Dogberry: Ted van Griethuysen
  • Verges: Floyd King
  • Juan Huevos: Phil Hosford
  • José Frijoles: Carlos J. Gonzalez
  • Villagers, Servants, Soldiers, etc: Aayush Chandan, James Graham, Michael Gregory, Aaryn Kopp, Janel Miley**, Jacob Perkins, Andrew Wassenich

**In the reviewed performance, the role of Ursula usually played by Colleen Delany was played by Janel Miley. The role usually played by Janel Miley was played by Ali Hoxie.

Creative Team

  • Director: Ethan McSweeny
  • Set Designer: Lee Savage
  • Costume Designer: Clint Ramos
  • Lighting Designer: Tyler Micoleau
  • Composer and Sound Designer: Steven Cahill
  • Associate Sound Designer: Elisheba Ittoop
  • Choreographer: Marcos Santana
  • Associate Choreographer: Alison Solomon
  • Casting: McCorkie Casting, Ltd.
  • Resident Casting Director: Daniel Neville-Rehbehn
  • Voice and Dialect Coach: Ellen O’Brien
  • Literary Associate: Drew Lichtenberg
  • Assistant Director: Jenny Lord
  • Production Stage Manager: Joseph Smelser
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Elizabeth Clewley
  • Directorial Assistant: Gus Heagerty

Disclaimer: Shakespeare Theater Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is an actor, director, and teaching artist. She is a Virginia Tech alumnus with a Bachelor's of Arts in English and Theatre Arts. A relative newcomer to the DC Metro area, Rachael has participated as both an actor and director in a variety of projects at Virginia Tech and has worked as a teaching artist with Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, New York.

One Response »

  1. While Meisle is terrific, last minute cast changes are concerning. Last year at Studio, this, and now at Arena, artists fired well into a rehearsal process are not unheard of, but we seem to have a cluster that could become a commonplace. What is the effect on non-star/non-headliners? How to achieve the loose confidence and willingness to experiment so necessary to the modern rehearsal process while under an ever-present sword and threat? And can theaters that earn a reputation for doing this attract talented performers and directors who are not yet so established as to be un-fireable?