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Review: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

Review: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

Love Among the Ruins with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

Shakespeare's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is the progenitor of the modern rom-com. Maybe this is why it has been placed in so many different eras of civilization from its original Renaissance setting to Edwardian England to the Roaring Twenties to its present incarnation in Post-World War II France. No matter where it travels, audiences will recognize the bickering protagonists, gossipy friends, meddling family, village buffoons, and broad comedy with a touch of tragedy.

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company takes the modern setting and runs with it. A 1940s radio show provides live music of the era to transition between scenes. The versatile cast serenades the audience and swing dances never missing a beat of iambic pentameter. Special mention to the lovely flowing dresses, authentic hair snoods and handsome uniforms by Lynly Saunders and excellent choreography by Lauren Engler. The production is a charming summertime interlude. Director Seamus Miller draws finely tuned moments from his actors and blends the traditional and modern elements smoothly. Many performances shine in this rendition which features enough singing and dancing to almost qualify as a musical.

It is 1944. Paris is liberated. When war ends, love and politics begin again. In a villa in the French countryside, returning soldiers stir up romance, gossip, feuds, friendships and general chaos. Everyone knows Benedict (Dylan Arredondo) loves Beatrice (Anna DiGiovanni) except Benedict and Beatrice. Everyone decides to get involved and makes a fine mess of things.

Arredondo flirts charmingly with both Beatrice and the audience, bounding about with abundant confidence and good humor. It is impossible not to like him. Which makes DiGiovanni's resistance to him as Beatrice both funny and futile. She starts out as the ultimate anti-fan (for you Kdrama watchers). He claims he doesn't like her either as he is an avowed bachelor. Beatrice may be termed a spinster according to the culture of the time, but she is clever and carefree. DiGiovanni fits the role like a glove and plays off the saucy, sassy side with a heroine's sincere and sensitive heart. B and B love to spar wits with each other and the actors sling retorts across the stage with great verve.

The second couple in this quartet of love features Hero (Kate Forton) and Claudio (Jordan Brown). Forton is the sweetness to Beatrice's sharpness, sings beautifully as one would imagine Hero would, and exudes a pre-Raphaelite romanticism. Brown has a fantastic stage presence that is both graceful and energetic. He is the hesitant Romeo to Benedict's brash swashbuckler.

Shakespeare's tendency to mix the complex and the clueless is lovingly presented in the characters of Leonata (Molly Moores) and Don Pedro (Ryan Tumulty) as they try to offer wisdom to the errant younger generation, maneuver estates and relationships and unwittingly fall in love themselves. Enter merry mayhem in the form of self-inflated constable Dogberry (Jose Guzman) and his bumbling policemen. Dogberry is all show and no competence. Guzman takes on the character with great exuberance. Appearing almost like a mix between Captain Renault in Casablanca and Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther, Dogberry is a master of malapropisms which only adds to the confusion. He gleefully throws grenades, literally and figuratively into everyone's story.

Under the stars, Shakespeare in-the-ruins is a mostly perfect setting. The crumbling façade of the PFI (Patapsco Female Institute) Historic Park lends itself to romantic romps as well as haunting dramas. Mostly. In this case, my theater companion noted that as we were seated facing the right side of the stage, we were often presented with the back of various actors, missing the action and facial expressions. Without sound enhancement, it was sometimes difficult to follow the antique language though the vocal projection was quite good.

The show presents a modern concept of love alongside antiquated ideas of femininity and marriage. It seems especially relevant now as we struggle to redefine the structure of society and gender relationships while recovering from trauma. Shakespeare guides us to take on these issues with humor and honor. CSC is dedicated to showcasing the beauty of Shakespeare's words while making them accessible to today's audiences. It was gratifying to see all ages in the park enjoying this timeless story.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING by the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company runs now through July 24, 2022 at the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park, 3655 Church Road, Ellicott City, MD 21043. For tickets or more information call 410-244-8570 or go online ChesapeakeShakespeare.com


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