What could be more appropriate for the Valentine season than a play with two love stories? Shakespeare wrote several of them, including TWELFTH NIGHT and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, but the most intriguing is MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. On one hand we have the traditional love-at-first-sight pairing of Hero and Claudio; on the other, the battle of the sexes between Beatrice and Benedick, who appear to despise each other. But do they? More about that later.
Now about the title. The word “ado” is seldom heard nowadays except in the phrase “without further ado.” According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, it means “Fussy bustling excitement” or “time-wasting bother over trivial details.” The latter meaning would make the title redundant. Also, some scholars have said that the title might actually have been “Much Ado About Noting,” meaning gossip, rumor and overhearing, which figure prominently in the play. “Nothing” and “noting” were pronounced the same in Elizabethan England.
Collingswood Shakespeare Company introduces some innovations with its production of MUCH ADO. It begins with a modified version of the famous “O for a Muse of fire” prologue “borrowed” from HENRY V. This prologue, with modifications, could be used for almost any the Bard’s plays and is a good attention getter. Then we meet a “regendered” Leonato, governor of Messina, now known as Leonata. As played by Cricket Batz, she is a truly gracious lady. It works! And, in a reversal of the practice of Shakespeare’s time, when women were played by men, some of the other male roles are played by women.
Leonata and her household are preparing to welcome an old friend, Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon (Donn Shear) back from war. The prince arrives with his entourage, which includes Claudio, a handsome young nobleman (Alex Ose). He has been attracted to Leonata’s daughter, Hero (Kelly Schoenecker) before; now, seeing her again, he knows that he loves her Another member of the group is Benedick (Matthew David Shell IV), whose sardonic sense of humor both amuses and annoys his companions. He and Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Katherine Tipson) engage in verbal sparring each time they meet. Then there is Don John, Don Pedro’s sullen, dark-minded illegitimate brother (Adam Corbett), who is jealous of Claudio because of Don Pedro’s favoritism towards him. When he hears that Claudio may marry Hero, he sees his chance to be a bastard in more ways than one by wrecking the wedding.
Don John gets his news from servants whom he uses as spies. The news about Claudio comes from the roguish Borrachio (meaning “drunk”). He is played well by actor Taran Christen. Another servant, Conrade (Fred Kimble) swears to help Don John in his villainy.
On the eve of the wedding, Borrachio arranges a tryst with Margaret (Mackenzie Fitchett), Hero’s maid, which can be seen through Hero’s bedroom window, and makes sure that Margaret will be mistaken for her mistress. Don John tells Claudio that his beloved is unfaithful, and arranges for him and Don Pedro to witness her infidelity. Claudio is devastated, but waits until the wedding to accuse Hero, thus disgracing her in public. She faints and is carried away, rejected even by her mother. But plans are already afoot to reveal the truth and restore her honor.
Meanwhile, another plot has been hatched to make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love with each other. The women gossip about Beatrice, saying that Benedick is in love with her and making sure that she is eavesdropping. And she is, in a very amusing scene. The men do the same with Benedick. But it is likely that the two are already in love but have been afraid or reluctant to admit it, hiding their true feelings behind their apparent antagonism.
Does all end well for the two couples? Of course. But come and see for yourself — and have some fun.
There are many fine performances, especially by the actors portraying Benedick, Beatrice, Leonata, Don Pedro, Borrachio and Don John. Marissa Kennedy, as both the singer Balthasar and the idiotic constable Dogberry, also deserves special mention. The set and lighting are simple, as they must be in a church room with no stage, but effective. The costumes are colorful and imaginative. All in all, the show is a valentine to the audience.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Lane McLeod Jackson
February 10-25, 2012
Collingswood Shakespeare Company
Trinity Episcopal Church
839 Haddon Avenue
Collingswood, NJ 08108