Review of Northwest Classical Theatre Company’s Much Ado About Nothing (20 April 2012)
One of the fun things about a theatre as small as the Shoebox is that the audience feels like they are actually in the setting, not just looking at it on the stage. Less than five minutes after I walked in to the palm-tree bedecked, 1960’s beach party themed theatre, I was wishing I had worn flip-flops instead of heels and a Hawaiian print instead of an LBD. (Bravo to director David Sikking for the amazing set design!)
Director David Sikking and the cast of Much Ado About Nothing certainly had fun with the setting – 1965 California beach, with surfboards, bikinis and the Beach Boys. And many things in the setting worked really well with the story. The party atmosphere that underlies Much Ado was obviously present. Don John (Orion Bradshaw) as a rebel without a cause actually makes perfect sense for one of Shakespeare’s enigmatic villains with very little motive for his actions. And the music (a mix of original songs by Stephen Alexander and classic surfer songs) made me want to sing along.
The fun, flirty dynamic between Beatrice (Melissa Whitney) and Benedick (Peter Schuyler) delighted me. Both actors made their characters’ arcs highly believable and consistent. And, as usual with Much Ado, the “eavesdropping” scenes made me laugh way too much! Benedick tried to hide behind the surfboards. And when that didn’t work, he tried to climb into the cooler, and then finally got his head stuck under one of the beach chairs. I didn’t think Beatrice’s scene could beat that, but when she hid under the beach umbrella, then collapsed it on herself, I was in stitches.
Hero (Brenan Dwyer) and Claudio (Carson Cook) made a sweet, young couple – just as they should be. Carson Cook, especially, rose to the challenge of a demanding part, and though his angst was somewhat understated, in the Shoebox it was very effective. There is a moment where we see “snapshots” of Hero and Claudio hanging out, surfing, playing games, and generally “dating.” It was priceless.
The whole production was highly physical, which had its great moments (Benedick turning around and nailing Beatrice with his surfboard, for one), but which also earned the production a PG-13 rating in my book. Don John and his minions (girls in this case, played by Clara-Liis Hillier and Jessi Walters) were too all-over-each-other for me.
The fact that Conrad and Borraccio turned into Connie and Veronica made for some awkward moments later on in the play, also… as did the fact that Clara-Liis Hillier played Connie in one scene and Margaret in the next. While Hillier is more than capable of handling multiple parts, it was unfortunate that those two parts were doubled. At least, I found it confusing… and I know the play quite well.
The setting, which worked well for many things (Gilligan meets Shakespeare?), turned out to be a complete disservice to Dogberry (Scot Carson). One would think that the part would be perfect – I mean, isn’t Dogberry a bit of a dumb surfer dude anyway? What’s the problem? The problem was that he didn’t stand out; he wasn’t that different from Benedick, Claudio, Don Pedro, Leonato, Antonio and the others. There wasn’t enough contrast, and without the contrast, the part just wasn’t as funny as it ought to have been.
Overall it was a fun experiment. I’m not positive that it was wholly successful… but it sure looked like a blast to put on!