BWW Review: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is Really Something at 4th Wall Theatre Company
Shakespeare was a master at penning hijinx hinging on deceit and crossed wires and MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is arguably his most comical romance. It's a play that has been ever-popular, making countless appearances on stage and screen, including on Broadway in 1972 with Sam Waterston, and on film in 1993 starring Kenneth Branaugh and Emma Thompson. The 4th Wall Theatre Company (formerly Stark Naked Theatre Company) gives their take on a play that was written in the 1500s, and their version is fresh, imaginative and funny while staying true to the script.
The story is about Beatrice and Benedick, two people who are very aware of each other, but seem to dislike each other. Benedick is a sworn bachelor for life, and Beatrice finds him ridiculous and obnoxious. Some of their friends decide to play a trick on them in order to try to get them together, and comedy ensues with some crafty manipulation and calculated buffoonery. The secondary storyline in the play is about Hero and Claudio, two lovers who are engaged to be married. When a calculated rumor gets out that Hero has been unfaithful, Claudio calls off the wedding and Hero collapses, seeming to be dead. That's not the end of their story of course; this is a comedy at its core.
The 4th Wall's production is reminiscent in style to the New York-based Bedlam Theatre Company's production of SAINT JOAN, which played in association with 4th Wall this spring. The cast is small and there are fewer actors than there are parts, so actors play more than one role. It's a risk, because the possibility for confusion is high when you have an actor jumping in and out of different characters, but 4th Wall makes it work very well.
Playing Beatrice and Benedick, Kim Tobin-Lehl and Philip Lehl (yes, they're married in real life) are excellent in their roles as two people in a love-hate relationship. Both actors seem to be so comfortable with Shakespeare's words that the lines become secondary and the subtext makes the story whole and clear. They both use a more modern, nuanced style to their portrayals; their characters could exist anywhere in time or place. Beatrice and Benedick have a lot of comedic moments and Tobin-Lehl and Lehl find the funny in every inch of the script. There are moments in this production when lines that have never struck me as funny before rang with comedic finesse.
Hero, played by Susan Draper, portrays the love-struck maiden with a sunny, good-natured tone. Herman Gambhir plays Claudio, the rather reactive husband-to-be, with a nice magnetism. Both Draper and Gambhir are more effective in the various smaller roles they take on than they are in their main roles. For instance, Gambhir is very funny and playful as a lady in waiting and Draper is interesting and committed as an old codger bent over his/her cane.
Philip Hays adeptly fills many roles like the pro he is and is most enjoyable when he's being comical. There is something about Hays that's built for comedy and he never disappoints in that regard. William Burke plays a handful of smaller roles and is a welcome and enjoyable presence onstage.
Directed by Kim Tobin-Lehl and Philip Lehl, this is a production that puts a new spin on Shakespeare. The costumes are spare, as is the simple, but very serviceable set. It's all a great place setting for our imaginations, and with intimate theatre-in-the-round staging and immersive portrayals from the actors it makes for a very fulfilling experience.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is playing at 4th Wall Theatre Company from December 1-24 at Studio 101, 1824 Spring. For more information, visit 4thwalltheatreco.com.
Photo Credit: Gabriella Nissen