Written by Diana Dzikiewicz. Posted here with permission from the author.
While Shakespeare’s play may be titled “Much Ado About Nothing,” for the characters involved, the events are far from nothing. Through duplicity both humorous and grim, they fall in love, have their hearts broken, and eventually come together again. This play is one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, and the Britches and Hose Theatre Company gives a lively performance that stays true to the bard’s vision while delighting modern audiences.
The play revolves around two couples. Beatrice and Benedick begin the story as the objects of each other’s most emphatic scorn, which rapidly dissolves after their friends decide it would be funny to trick the two into falling in love. Claudio begins the play emphatically in love with Hero, a love which wavers when an evil prince decides to try some tricks of his own. In a play that focuses so much on deception, the final message is of the importance of being willing to tell the truth about our feelings, and to listen to truth when we hear it.
If you know the story of “Much Ado”, nothing in this play will surprise you. The director, Arielle Seidman, makes no attempt to make statements by setting the play in modern times or twisting out a new perspective on its plot. Instead, she has pursued and achieved a different goal: to create “Much Ado” done well. The play is filled with hilarious physical comedy, including everything from a character attempting to hide behind a much too small shrub to a re-enactment of offstage events that gives new significance to the line, “I tell this tale vilely.” As the play moves from pure comedy into drama, Seidman is careful to keep the grim moments balanced with levity, not detracting from the anguish but not letting the audience drown in it either.
The play is also true to its origins in length, with a run time just short of three hours and including a 15-minute intermission. The sets, costumes, lighting, and music are minimal. Instead, this is a performance that relies entirely on actors. Britches and Hoes has opted to double-cast the show; the following comments are regarding actors performing from March 17-19.
From the moment Beatrice steps on stage, all she can talk about is Benedick. Admittedly, everything she’s saying about him is negative, but Megan Fraedrich portrays her as taking such joy from speaking about him that it’s no surprise when she later falls in love with the object of her loudly proclaimed disdain. Brianna Lau makes for a sweet and innocent Hero, while Stephanie Ramsey is charming as the lovestruck Claudio. The most astonishing performance of the night came from Dave Joria as Benedick, speaking Shakespearean dialect as naturally as modern English. He is adept at expressing a range of emotions simultaneously, whether that’s the joy and embarrassment of falling in love as an avowed bachelor or the confusion, pain, and frustration that comes with watching his best friend’s wedding explode into scandal. The rest of the ensemble put in excellent performances that convince the audience that every character has their own inner lives. Tashina Harris manages to create a powerful moment for a very minor character simply through her expressions while watching Hero’s wedding dissolve. At another point in the play, nearly the full cast is onstage for a dance scene, and every character can be seen to be living out their own silent stories.
“Much Ado About Nothing” is a play that stretches from comedy to tragedy and ends in comedy again. Although the actors may pause to wince and shake their heads at some of Shakespeare’s more cringe-worthy lines, this is a performance that shows why his works have been acted out for centuries. Britches and Hose Theatre Company proves that “Much Ado About Nothing” can still leave audiences laughing at 400-year-old jokes and caught up in a story from long ago.