Shakespeare can be problematic to stage on a small scale. Large, unwieldy casts can clutter a tiny stage. The 400-year-old antique text can prove repetitive and wordy and the storylines archaic in their presentation of a woman”™s place in society.
The elegant staging of the Glendale-based theatre company A Noise Within”™s version of Much Ado About Nothing has no problem with any of these common issues. Rather, the show is a lively night of theatre, music and dance, as well as witty banter, all underpinned by a serious theme.
Much Ado About Nothing is an odd play. For about half the night it rolls along merrily as a romantic comedy, and then makes an abrupt and serious turn during the third act. It then observes the fallout resulting from the deliberate besmirching of a maid”™s good reputation, weathers a tempestuous fourth and fifth act, but manages to achieve a happy ending all the same.
Vaguely similar in structure to a classic Italian commedia dell”™arte mask play, and also set in an Italian court, Shakespeare focuses on two pairs of lovers: the romantic leads, Claudio and Hero (Brandon Hearnsberger and Lindsay Gould), and their comic counterparts, Benedick and Beatrice (JD Cullum and Torri Higginson).
In Messina, an Italian prince Don Pedro (Patrick O”™Connell) and his deputies, Claudio and Benedick, have just returned from a successful military campaign. The governor of Messina, Leonato (Apollo Dukakis), welcomes them for passing by the city and invites them to stay for a month.
Benedick and Leonato”™s niece Beatrice are longtime adversaries and resume their “merry war of words”. Claudio”™s feelings for Hero, Leonato”™s young daughter, are rekindled upon his seeing her, and Claudio soon announces to Benedick his intention to woo her. Love-wary Benedick tries to dissuade his friend, but is unsuccessful in the face of Don Pedro”™s encouragement.
While Benedick teases Claudio, Benedick declares he could never trust a woman and swears he will be an eternal bachelor. To that Don Pedro vows, “I shall see thee, “™ere I die, look pale with love,” and thus sets up the comical premise for the play.
A masquerade ball is planned, giving a disguised Don Pedro the opportunity to woo Hero on Claudio”™s behalf. The brooding, melancholy bastard Don John (Stephen Rockwell) uses this situation to get revenge on his brother Don Pedro and Claudio by telling young Claudio that Don Pedro is actually wooing Hero for himself. Claudio confronts Don Pedro but their misunderstanding is swiftly resolved and Claudio wins Hero”™s hand in marriage.
Don Pedro and his men, bored at the prospect of waiting a week for the matrimonial ceremony to take place, hatch a hilarious plan to unite Beatrice and Benedick. The men, led by Don Pedro, proclaim Beatrice”™s love for Benedick while knowing he is eavesdropping on their conversation. The women, led by Hero, do the same likewise to Beatrice. Struck by the “revelations”, Beatrice and Benedick, neither willing to bear the reputation of pride and scornfulness, each decide to requite the love of the other.
Meanwhile Don John, schemes to ruin Claudio and Hero”™s wedding plans by casting aspersions upon Hero”™s virtue.
Relying on elegant costumes courtesy of Soojin Lee and her assistant Danielle Horn – the ladies swan about in long skirts and high-necked long-sleeved blouses, with fringed shawls about their waists and smart straw boaters – and also delightful sets by Kurt Boetcher, director Michael Murray achieves a vivacious and vibrant feel to this almost three hour play. The animated staging includes some physicality in the form of parries and jousts that mimic the lively banter and wordplay.
The boozy masquerade ball is especially fun, featuring some gorgeous and delightful choreography from Julia Rodriguez-Elliott – the cast even fall upon the floor! – and some authentic-sounding Italian folk music, no doubt sourced by sound designer Benjamin Haber Kamine. The lighting design by Ken Booth gave the production an Italian rural glow, with the addition of paper lanterns that switched colour for the masquerade ball resulting in a simple and enchanting “˜special effect.”™
Murray”™s gifted cast imbue their poetic lines with plenty of wit, emotion and meaning. The fourth act, when Hero is violently spurned, echoes with violent accusations and genuine distress. It is a dramatic tonal shift from lighthearted banter to serious drama that the entire cast takes in their stride.
As Benedick, JD Cullum brings as much comedy to his hilarious and innuendo-heavy line readings as possible while Torri Higginson plays his romantic adversary Beatrice with great aplomb.
This play is essentially a dual love story where lies and misperceptions threaten the happiness of one couple, while the other couple banters and battles their way from opposition to affection.
Much Ado About Nothing endures as a fine romantic comedy with a vein of drama to lend it gravity. A Noise Within”™s fine production is not to be missed.
Saturday, March 27, 2 pm
Saturday, March 27, 8 pm
Wednesday, April 21, 8 pm
Thursday, April 22, 8 pm
Saturday, May 1, 2 pm
Saturday, May 1, 8 pm
Sunday, May 2, 2 pm
Sunday, May 2, 7 pm
Sunday, May 16, 2 pm
Sunday, May 16, 7 pm
Thursday, May 20, 8 pm
Friday, May 21, 8 pm
A Noise Within
234 South Brand Blvd.,
Glendale, CA 91204
$44 (Friday and Saturday evenings, Sunday matinees);
$40 (Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings, Saturday matinees);
Group rates and special rates for school groups available
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Review by Pauline Adamek