BWW Review: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at Heart Of America Shakespeare Festival
The 2018 edition of the "Heart of America Shakespeare Festival" offers a very nice production of Shakespeare's 1599 comedy "Much Ado About Nothing." "Much Ado" is a comedy/farce in many ways similar to other Shakespearian comedies "Taming of the Shrew," and "The Merchant of Venice." All three plays depend on misdirection and romances somehow gone way awry.
Director Sidonie Garrett whisks us away to Messina, Sicily long ago at the home of Governor Leonato (Mark Robbins) of Messina. We meet the Governor's brother Antonio (David Fritts), his niece, Beatrice (Cinnamon Schultz), Leonato's daughter Hero (Amy O'Connor)), and Hero's gentlewomen Margaret (Ellen Kirk) and Ursula (Jan Rogge).
Don Pedro (Matthew Williamson), the Prince of Aaragon, visits Messina with several of his senior Lieutenants after the successful completion of a military campaign. Messina is on Sicily, an island in the Mediterranean off the toe of the boot of Italy. Arragon is a landlocked medieval Kingdom in northeastern Spain. In the 14th and 15th centuries Sicily was ruled by the Spanish Kingdom of Arragon.
Don Pedro and Leonato are evidently long-time friends. His Lieutenants are Benedick of Florence (Darren Kennedy), Claudio of Padua (Zach Sudbury), and Balthasar (Roan Ricker) a servant to the Don, but costumed as an officer of equal rank to Benedict.
We know that Don Pedro and his men have been here before because there is a playfully negative relationship going on between saucy Beatrice and Benedict. We suspect they are fond of each other, but hide it quite forcefully. Claudio is a first time visitor dumbstruck at first sight by the Governor's daughter Hero. Claudio begs Leonato for Hero's hand in marriage and (with the assistance of Don Pedro) is quickly acceded to.
The plot thickens. Also hanging around in a slightly different uniform is Don Pedro's illegitimate, jealous, and mean brother Don John (Jake Walker) and his two retainers, Borachio (Matt Rapport) and Conrade (Khalif Gillett). They decide to punk Claudio for reasons known best to Don John before he flees the scene. They will make Claudio believe that Hero has been less than faithful to him. Meanwhile, Don Pedro with Leonato's assistance plot to get Beatrice and Benedict together.
All this is deliberately confusing so do not despair. The twists do resolve in the end.
This cast is remarkably even in ability and presentation. "Much Ado About Nothing" is one of Shakespeare's few plays written in prose rather than the iconic iambic pentameter. The dialog is fast and still remarkably funny and relatable considering it was written five hundred nineteen years ago. The actors carry it off, without the Elizabethan accents audiences have been primed to expect. The effect is to make the half millennium old comedy still accessible to a modern audience.
Garrett's staging is broad and clever. She always lets the audience in on the joke. The cast is given the freedom to express their own inner comedians. In places, "Much Ado" is absolutely slapstick. The setting built by Kaleb Krahn and designed by Gene Emerson Friedman is appropriate to its use and professional in its execution.
It may be a little difficult to grasp after the lionization of the Bard, but he was pretty much the Neil Simon of his day. Many of his plays were written for ordinary folks who were the groundlings at his Globe Theater. The humor of these "Odd Couples" finds a way to come through the warp in the space/time continuum.
Special mentions are deserved to all the cast members, but especially to Don Pedro, Benedict, Beatrice, Hero, Leonato, Claudio, Hero, Balthasar, Conrad, and Borachio.
"Much Ado About Nothing" continues at Southmoreland Park in Kansas City adjacent to the Nelson Atkins Art Museum on Tuesdays through Sundays up until July 1 at 8:00 p.m. Seating in the natural amphitheater is free although donations are accepted.