Written by Daniel T. Rodriguez. Posted here with permission from the author.
Got to go see Tashina Harris today in a local theater performance of Much Ado About Nothing. Snobbish expectations were a little dimmed for Shakespeare performed by community theater. Dimmed even more when we walked into the bright fluorescent lighting to see folding chairs set up on the cold linoleum of a community/senior center in suburban Virginia.
We were really only there, however, to see our friend try out her acting chops as Shakespeare’s Margaret – a relatively minor character to the play – so our presence was there mostly to be supportive and see a group of local thespians at least try their best with a play filled with antiquated puns and word play
That snobbery was very quickly shown to be obnoxiously misplaced. We were both legitimately blown away by the incredibly high caliber of the performances (for any theater, not just unpaid community theater). Where funds for exquisite costumes or for props of any kind (beyond a chair and a ficus) were lacking, the passion of the cast was on clear display.
But passion without talent might warrant only a participation trophy. I am not exaggerating when I say that this might have been one of my favorite performances of Shakespeare I’d ever seen. In a sense, the frugal production value forced these actors to really embrace these roles and play up the comedy of this play. (The audience was honestly laughing throughout – probably the highest praise and proof of the cast’s success).
At the intermission, Annelle and I discussed which were our favorite characters, and while Beatrice was probably our favorite (as it should be, really), every character – no matter how minor – vied for the top position in our discussion due to the clarity and talent of each performance.
Shakespeare can be hard to get through, yes – but often times that’s due to the quality of the acting. These actors are all so good that they’re able to not just communicate the meaning of some of the arcane language, but also the humor of it.
I’ve seen plenty of community theater. I’ve enjoyed almost all of it, but I wouldn’t actually recommend most of it to my friends. It might generally be fun, but I can see how some amateur elements of the production and performances just wouldn’t be for some people.
For this production of Much Ado About Nothing, however, I really do offer a full recommendation.
I would preface that recommendation with “for the price,” but that would seem to cheapen it and to warrant my mislaid snobbish expectations.
I also won’t preface it with “if you like Shakespeare,” because you really don’t have to “like Shakespeare” to appreciate this play. It’s a fun and clever play, but it’s really only good if the actors can sell the wit and cleverness of the English language as it existed centuries ago.
The only preface I’ll give to my recommendation is: If you enjoy fun things, don’t have an irrational fear of theater, and understand English, this play is worth your time and you should go see it.
That the price is low only serves to remove from you any excuse you might have to stay home. As for distance, we drove all the way out from DC to see it, so unless you don’t have a car, you really have no other excuses to fall back on if you live in the DC area.
Go have some fun. See a play. Support local theater.
Also, our original purpose in seeing it was more than validated – Tashina was great as Margaret.