Thierry Sagnier is a published author, a former writer for The Washington Post, and, most recently, a reviewer for DC Metro Theater Arts. He attended the March 26th performance of Much Ado, which featured a different cast than the preceding weekend. Mr. Sagnier offers his perspective on this cast’s unique take on the play.
Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is not the easiest of the bard’s plays to follow. With a cast of nineteen, it is a comedic romp full of assumed identities, pretense, falsehoods, billets doux, faked death, love betrayed and reaffirmed, and pugnacious ‘forsooths.’
The story begins as Don Pedro (Connie Ramsey), Prince of Arragon, returns from a war waged against his bastard brother, Don John (Michael Angeloni). Don Pedro is accompanied by two of his officers, Claudio (Spencer Sheetz) and Benedick (Will McLeod). On the road back to their domain, the three warriors stop to visit Leonato (Bob Rosenberg), the governor of Messina. Things immediately turn convoluted as Claudio falls in love with Don Pedro’s daughter, Hero (Kathleen McDermott) while Benedick and Beatrice (Leandra Lynn), who seem to have a history, engage in witty badinage that everyone knows will eventually lead to romance. Don Pedro, after making sure that Hero has feelings for Claudio, suggests to Leonato that the young couple marry.
Then it gets really complex.
The two-hour and fifty-minute show is an audience’s delight. Arielle Seidman directs the show with Spartan elegance, and does not allow the piece to degenerate into a farce. She also takes on the roles of the Third Watchman and the Messenger. The minimalist set—a chair and a potted palm that are moved about the stage to provide conspicuous concealment for, by turn, Benedick and Beatrice—is offset by gorgeous costumes of ruffles and lace, and knee high boots. This is theater without adornment, stripped to it most pleasing elements. The show’s austerity places demands on both the actors and the director.
Ramsey plays Don Pedro with an unassuming grace, while McDermott’s Hero is the very portrait of youthful innocence betrayed. Bob Rosenberg gives Leonato a sense of weary but necessary leadership. Will McLeod’s Benedick is an ambitious and engaging trickster, adept at ruse through words and actions. Claudio plays confusion well and handsomely; his emotions are palpable. Love is replaced by doubt and then horror as he falls victim to the chicanery of Don John. The latter, full of anger and resentment at having been defeated by his brother in battle, enlists the aid of the aptly named Borachio (John Moss) to impugn Hero’s morals. Borachio, a wonderful drunk with a never-empty glass, careens about the set and is kept upright only by the righteous efforts of his disgusted acolyte, Conrade (Margaret Carson). Margaret (Tashina Harris ) and Ursula (Mandy Ellis) are wonderful as Hero’s attending gentlewomen who offer support to their mistress and become involved in the never-ending series of deceptions.
Leandra Lynn’s Beatrice is flirty, sensual, full of common sense and entitled in turn. She commands the stage without effort, refusing to be browbeaten and giving as good as she gets. Beatrice has some of the play’s best lines and Lynn delivers them with understated humor, except, that is, for the one time when she genuinely gets livid. Then, her anger shakes the rafters. Benedick beware; this is not a subservient woman.
There are unexpected moments of sheer pleasure: a brief but attractively choreographed ronde, a comic interlude involving Constable Dogberry and his sidekick, Verges (Gabriel Komisar and Trey Gibson) and as they overhear Borachio’s confession of wrongdoing, a forceful speech on honor and vengeance darkly voiced by Leonato’s brother, Antonio (Spencer Pilcher) who, it is obvious, is not a man who bears his wrongs easily.
The play of course ends well. No one dies, love saves the day, and Don John and his cohorts get what they justly deserve.
Britches and Hose’s Much Ado about Nothing is a fun, raucous and welcome presentation by a company that deserves recognition.