Review: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING At Bacca Arts Center

Modern Classics Theatre Company's production ran from March 11-26

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Review: MAMMA MIA! at Plaza Theatrical Productions"Let me be that I am and seek not to alter me." "I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest." "When you depart from me, sorrow abides and happiness takes his leave." All of these pearls of wisdom are from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. For over 400 years, the Bard's words have resonated with all and will continue to do so for centuries more. Many wonder why Shakespeare is still relevant today and the answer is quite simple. Each one of his works touches on universal themes that all readers/audiences can relate to. Who can't connect to themes like the inevitability of fate (Romeo and Juliet), the difficulty and pain of love (Twelfth Night) or the complexity of revenge (Hamlet). All of Shakespeare's themes are conveyed through his powerful use of language. It is quite a challenge for a theater company to put on a successful production by Shakespeare. Yet the Modern Classics Theatre Company of Long Island's production of Much Ado About Nothing makes it look effortless.

Part of the Bard's First Folio, Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy about two intertwined love stories. After a group of soldiers arrive in Messina, love emerges between Hero, the Governor's daughter, and Claudio, a young officer. The young pair then conspire with Don Pedro, Claudio's commanding officer, to play matchmaker and set-up Beatrice, Hero's cousin, and Benedick, Claudio's friend and fellow officer. This turns out to be no easy task indeed as both Beatrice and Benedick have both a distaste for love...and each other. Will love prevail for both couples? Or will they fall victim to the sinister scheme of Don Pedro's brother and self-proclaimed villain, Don John?

It has always been a dream for J. Timothy Conlon to direct a production of Much Ado About Nothing. Ever since he saw the 1988 production at Central Park's Delacorte Theater starring Kevin Kline, Blythe Danner, Phoebe Cates, Jerry Stiller and David Hyde Pierce. You can definitely see his passion for this project. Conlon takes an intimate setting and makes it seem vast thanks to his amazing staging and blocking; his transitions were flawless. All of the original text is performed to showcase the importance of Shakespeare's language; to emphasize Shakespeare's accessibility, Conlon has the entire ensemble speak in American accents. The set is simple and perfect and once again Modern Classics Theatre Company proves you don't need to have a vast expensive set to transport an audience.

A nod must also be given to Costume Designer Chery Manniello. Throughout the play, Beatrice and Benedick wear scarfs that symbolize their characters. Beatrice begins her scarf cycle with yellow (symbolizing her happiness and content not being in love), green (symbolizing her renewal in the possibility of love) and blue (symbolizing her serenity and security with Benedick). Benedick begins his scarf cycle with red (symbolizing his aggression and disdain toward love), purple (symbolizing his transformation to falling in love), and blue (again symbolizing his serenity and security with Beatrice). They both begin as contrasting prime colors (yellow/red) and end up becoming one and the same (blue). Nicely done Ms. Manniello.

What really makes this production a triumph is its amazing ensemble. I've never seen an ensemble where they make Shakespeare look so easy. Conlon did a phenomenal job casting this play and I think there is potential here to start a repertory company. Real-life couple Karen and Mark John Santaromita star in this production as Beatrice and Benedick. They have an excellent rapport with one another like Tracy and Hepburn; their love for each other truly exudes on stage. They both also nail the farcical comedy. The Santaromitas both have very expressive eyes and are used perfectly in the farcical scenes of deception; they echo Chaplin and Lucy. Jordan Gagnon and Christina O'Shea bring tremendous heart to their roles of Claudio and Hero. Solomon Buchman is perfectly sinister as Don John. A true scene stealer of the evening was Mary Peterle as a gender-bending Dogberry; she was hysterically excellent. The entire ensemble was equally brilliant including: Tim Smith (Leonato), Julia DeSena (Messenger/First Lord/Boy/Seacoal), Ken Young (Don Pedro), Larry Bellman (Antonio), Frank Caliguiri (Conrade), Steve Fallis (Borachio), Dan Roehrig (Balthasar/Second Watch/Sexton), Candace Wilkerson (Margaret/First Watch), Megan Laguna (Ursula/Verges) & Marco Chiriboga (Friar Francis).

While the power of deception is one of the main themes expressed in this play, one thing I can assure you is that you will not be deceived and will truly see a wonderful production.

Much Ado About Nothing opened at the BACCA Arts Center in Lindenhurst, NY on March 11, 2023 and ran through March 26, 2023.


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