Much to Note in “Much Ado”

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Written by Jen Lofquist. Posted with the permission of the author.

“Much Ado About Nothing” supposedly is about Claudio and Hero, but we all go to watch it for the wit and barbs of Beatrice and Benedick. However, Britches and Hose’s production, directed by Arielle Seidman, highlights the full cast of the show and lets each character have their own time in the spotlight. It’s the strength of the entire cast that makes this play shine from beginning to end.

Much Ado opens in the town of Messina, where Leonato (played by the talented Daniel Rinehart) welcomes the prince, Don Pedro (Joshua McCreary), back from the wars, along with his companions Benedick (Dave Joria) and Claudio (Stephanie Ramsey), and the prince’s no good brother, Don John (Betsy Ryan). Claudio quickly falls for the lovely Hero (Brianna Lau), while Benedick openly spars with the quick-witted Beatrice (Megan Fraedrich) under the approving eye of her father, Antonia (Spencer Pilcher).

Rinehart’s Leonato is a fully drawn character. He is joyful at welcoming the prince, conniving at the marriage of his niece; he later displays anger and shame at his daughter’s fall, rage and revenge on her slander, and warm reconciliation when all comes right in the end. His emotions never strike a false note, even if he’s not the main focus of the production. McCreary is a warm prince who easily explains why he’s followed into battle simply on his charm. However, when he thinks Claudio has been wronged, the prince ably shows that edge of temper. Antonio is the perfect foil as the angry uncle itching for a fight—especially when his family is the victim.

Claudio and Hero are the perfect lovers, falling for each other easily when Claudio finally has time for it. It also doesn’t hurt that Hero is the heiress of everything around him. Ramsey plays Claudio with a sweet earnestness that makes Claudio’s turn at the first ill-fated wedding strike even harsher. Lau’s Hero is all light and laughter, making her fall painful to watch.

Meanwhile Joria and Fraedrich charm the paint from the walls and make the audience wish that each scene between the two could last just a wee bit longer. Joria’s affability shines while Fraedrich makes you wish Beatrice was your own “Get-a-Grip” friend and you could spend every weekend with her. Their chemistry is light-hearted and warm, so when the happy ending is found, you feel as comfy as reading a book by a fire. It just feels like it should be.

The plot is aided by the evil machinations of Don John and his henchman, Borachio (John Moss) and Conrade (Margaret Carson), who are oddly discovered by the lawman Dogberry (Gabriel Komisar), Verges (Bob Rosenberg), and their watchmen (Tom Barylski, Michael Angeloni, Edmund Sparrow, and Allie Vignoli). Komisar steals the stage with physical humor matching the wit of his lines, and Rosenberg is charming as his long suffering assistant. His watchmen are so fun to watch as they try to figure out how to follow Dogberry’s instructions that you don’t want them to leave the stage.

John Moss is well cast as the unethical, yet far too charming, Borachio, as he answers to Ryan’s dark and malicious Don John. Moss plays Borachio as a man used to getting out of trouble and ending up a winner, and it’s a fitting twist that the charismatic villain, Borachio, is brought down by the inept watchmen, Verges and Dogberry. Carsson plays Conrade as just caught up in the unfortunate moment and honestly annoyed that he’s even here. It’s really fun to watch.

The main cast is supported by Mandi Ellis, Tashina Harris, Connie Ramsey and Elizabeth Weiss as Ursula, Margaret, Friar Francis/Sexton, and Balthazar. Especially notable is the lovely voice of Weiss singing “Hey Nonny Nonny.” Ellis and Harris are able supporters to the cast, always entertaining and fully realized, never venturing in the cardboard cutout realm. Ramsey plays the friar and sexton back to back but so differently, you have to remind yourself that they are played by the same person.

The work on stage is expertly supported by the production team of Seidman, assistant director Leandra Lynn; stage manager Victoria Greek, technical director Dan Clark, music director Dave Joria, and media design/publicity Sarah Pfanz.

Overall, this is an entertaining production, fun from beginning to end, and when the final bow is made you almost wish you could ask the cast to do it all over again.

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