Monday, March 19, 2018

Margin Notes: Much Ado About Nothing

James Powers, Morgan Hooper, and
Megan Greener as Balthazar, Verges, and

Seen on: Saturday, 3/17/18.
My grade: A+

Plot and Background
Leonato plays host to the prince, Don Pedro, and his soldier friends, and love is in the air: Claudio, with the prince's aid, woos and wins Leonato's daughter, Hero. When the verbal sparring between too-witty-for-their-own-good Beatrice and Benedick gets out of hand, Don Pedro leads the others in persuading the two combatants of each other's unspoken affection. Complicating matters is Don Pedro's bastard brother, Don John, who is set on ruining as much happiness as he can. Hamlet Isn't Dead presents Much Ado About Nothing as part of its ongoing journey to present the entire Shakespeare canon in chronological order.

What I Knew Beforehand
I've seen (and reviewed) several Hamlet Isn't Dead ventures, and I know a few of the artists involved. I also have Much Ado accidentally-half-memorized, because the Branagh film is one of my favorites.


Play: I always enjoy a Hamlet Isn't Dead production, and this one may be the most fun I've seen. Evident in every moment is the company's affection for the text and joy in playing. Director James Rightmyer Jr. leans full tilt into the title's meaning - there is, indeed, much ado along the journey the characters take, but as things wind to a happy end and the company joins in (very catchy) song, there is the most joy and release as they hit the nonsense refrain of "hey nonny nonny." Shakespeare sticklers may note the combining of several roles for economy here - servant Ursula and Leonato's brother Antonio become Leonato's wife Ursula; Balthazar, Don Pedro's musician, absorbs some smaller roles, like Conrade and the messenger; the Friar, too, is merged with the Sexton - this economizing largely works, though it makes the argument over grief and anger between Leonato and Ursula a bit confusing, stakes-wise (Ursula's passivity might make more sense regarding a niece than a daughter). This is a small quibble, though - I thoroughly enjoyed myself during this high-quality performance.

Cast: A truly excellent cast across the board. As Beatrice and Benedick, Hayley Palmer and Michael Thatcher are engagingly witty, even as their highest hilarity comes when they are made the fools by their friends (Beatrice's gardener disguise, you guys. It's great). As the clowns (and constables) Dogberry and Verges, Megan Greener and Morgan Hooper are effing hilarious; their charm comes from the earnestness with which they are deeply, saturatedly clueless. James Powers, Maureen Fenninger, and Thea Lammers perform double duty as the musicians and as Balthazar, Friar, and Margaret, respectively, and they are charming and talented at both. Regina Renee Russell's Hero is the perfect blend of sweetness and ferocity, showing her more than an equal foil to her cousin Beatrice; and Noah Ruff's Claudio has a sweet-faced affability, which could be enough to make you forgive how awful Claudio can be, if you feel like it. Joe Regan brings excellent presence and gravity to the role of Don Pedro (and Morgan Hooper in his other role, as his brother Don John, is all manner of creeping and creepy). As Hero's parents Leonato and Ursula, James Michael Armstrong and Heaven Stephens are powerful and moving. Even with Leonato's rejection at Hero's disgrace, one is never in doubt of her parents' love for her - that is why it hurts all the more.


Running: Now playing at The Center at West Park, Balcony Theatre (Hamlet Isn't Dead) - Opening: March 15, 2018. Closing: March 24, 2018.
Category: classical play (with music)
Length: 2 hours, including intermission.

Creative Team

Playwright: William Shakespeare
Music: James Overton
Director: James Rightmyer Jr. Assistant Director: David Andrew Laws
Cast: Hayley Palmer, Michael Thatcher, Regina Renee Russell, Noah Ruff, James Michael Armstrong, Heaven Stephens, Joe Regan, Morgan Hooper, John-Alexander Sakelos, Thea Lammers, James Powers, Maureen Fenninger, Megan Greener.

James Michael Armstrong, Noah Ruff, and Joe Regan as Leonato, Claudio,
and Don Pedro.

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