BWW Reviews: Present Company's Modern MUCH ADO is Delightful, But Sit Close!
Usually, my opinion of a show can be summed up fairly clearly and concisely. I loved it, or I didn't love it. For Present Company's current production of Much Ado About Nothing, my answer is "I think I loved it." Why the trepidatious "I think?" Sadly, I sat towards the back and caught maybe 50% of the dialogue. While presenting a play on the roof of Whole Foods (and for free, no less) is an inspired move, the traffic noise from 5th Street and Lamar makes it difficult to hear. So if you see Much Ado About Nothing (and you should, I think), be sure to sit close.
So why, if I only heard half of what was said, do I think I loved it? Well, whether you hear it or not, there's no question that Present Company's production of Will Shakespeare's beloved romantic comedy is a high energy affair. The liveliness and enthusiasm of the cast is clear even before the show truly begins. The show is accompanied by a very clever, somewhat improved pre-show in which the cast interacts with the audience. They put any Shakespeare naysayers at ease by showing how easy it is to understand Shakespeare's language and by pointing out how many of our everyday sayings are derived from the Bard's turn of phrase.
The cleverness continues with the show itself. Director Lindsay Doleshal's decision to place the story in a hotel in present day New York is a smart one, though I'm still a bit puzzled by the decision to change the character of the priest to a rabbi. Sure, a rabbi with a New York accent almost always elicits chuckles, but it's not a necessary change.
Doleshal's direction is also fairly free of superfluous set pieces. While that may be out of necessity (you try lugging set pieces up to the roof of Whole Foods), it also forces the audience to focus on the characters and Shakespeare's poetic language. While the entire cast is strong, the women prove to be the most memorable. In the role of Dogberry, the incompetent policewoman, Jennifer Coy gets laugh after laugh, largely due to her brilliant choice to use an over-exaggerated Midwestern accent. Stephanie Carll is perfectly cast as Beatrice. Beautiful but self-assured and wildly witty, Beatrice is perhaps one of literature's earliest and smartest feminist characters. Carll plays Beatrice with the type of confidence that the role demands, and she's delightfully funny. As Hero, Beatrice's cousin and best friend, Cassadie Peterson gives a fantastic performance as well. Hero must be wholesome (an entire plotline revolves around her virtue) and Peterson creates a character who is pure but not a prude. She may be virtuous, but she seems to enjoy witnessing the bad behavior and hijinks around her.
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, produced by Present Company, plays the Whole Foods Rooftop at 525 N. Lamar Blvd, Austin 78703 now thru Sunday, May 11th. Performances are Friday - Sunday. Seating starts at 6:30pm. Pre-show begins at 7pm. Performance begins at 7:30pm. Seating is free (a donation of $10-$20 is suggested). For information, please visit www.presentcompanytheatre.com