Review: Public's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Back From The Road
"Raise your hand if you've ever been betrayed by someone you trusted."
"Raise your hand if you've ever been in love."
Such pre-performance audience surveys aren't common fare at The Public Theater, where seasoned and knowledgeable playgoers are known to congregate, but their current offering of Much Ado About Nothing is anything but common fare.
Presented by The Public's Mobile Shakespeare Unit, director Kwame Kewi-Armah's portable production - performed on an Astroturf carpet and whittled to 100 minutes - settles down at Astor Place for a few weeks after touring prisons, nursing homes, community centers and juvenile detention centers throughout the five boroughs. Many of their previous audience members have never attended a live professional theatre production before and crowds have been known to react rather rambunctiously to the antics before them, so the 8-member acting ensemble (playing 15 characters) eschews subtle nuance and subtext for high energy and showmanship.
The company compares their mission to "giving a meal to a person who doesn't know they're starving" and presented in such a context, it's fun to imagine how an incarcerated prisoner or an underserved teenager would react while watching the spirited sharp-tongued battles between Samantha Soule's acerbic Beatrice and Michael Braun's pompous Benedick, who despise each other so much you know they're going to wind up together in a final clinch.
Grandly hammy Lucas Caleb Rooney doubles as the villainous Don Pedro and the righteous constable Dogberry, with Ramsey Faragallah and Marc Damon Johnson as the lawman's bumbling cohorts. The fellows are more dignified in their roles as the noble Leonato and Don Pedro.
Rosal Colón triples as Don John's sneaky accomplice, Borachio (here named Borachia), Hero's loyal handmaiden, Margaret, and Friar Francis.
The wacky staging frequently spills into the audience, as actors mingle with patrons before the performance and sometimes occupy empty (and not so empty) seats. At one point, the slender Ms. Soule hides by crawling beneath a full row of chairs.
While Mobile Shakespeare Unit's production would serve as an excellent introduction to The Bard, experienced playgoers should have an enjoyable time watching an old favorite played in a unique context.