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BWW Reviews: Shakespeare's War of Love and Wit Enchant Audiences at APT

Outdoor theater experienced under Spring Green's star studded Wisconisn sky at American Players Theatre easily engages the audiences. When the renowned company alights on the Up the Hill Theatre with one of William Shakespeare's finest comedies Much Ado About Nothing for their summer 2014 season. the enthralling performance directed by David Frank electrifies the audience with charm and laughter.

On the elegant stage, Costume and Scenic Designer Robert Morgan creates a scenario in Sicily's Messina where the romance between Nate Burger's Claudio and Kelsey Brennan's Hero flourishes and then literally dies while the relationship of Beatrice and Benedick assumes another trajectory. Wit, wooing and the play on words in the charming Italian village ignites first love and then rages against an innocent Hero to disarm and delight the audience.

The entertaining evening revisits how precious wining love in this worldly life, whatever century one romances in, remains valuable. Or, how gossip and falsehoods undo the human spirit, exposing all a person's frailties and vulnerabilities, that can cause actual harm. Or in the circumstances of the two older lovers, the mere emotional pain cuased by the sarcasm Beatrice and Benedick rail at each other, at least before they come to understand this war of wits disguises their true feelings of love.

Under Brian Mani's exceptional portrayal of Leonato, Governor of Messina, Shakepsare's banter flourishes. A saucy and sensuous Colleen Madden gives the bard's Beatrice true emotional fire to defy her unlikely suitor Benedick, played by an accomplished and confident David Daniel. For their dedicatied display of innocent love destroyed and afterwards merely delayed, Brennan's Hero floats across a stage similar to a fairy princess in her lavishly layered golden gown to match the handsome Burger's besotted with admiration Claudio, love at first sight.

The Prince, acted by Jeb Burris, commandeers Shakepeare's romanctic plots, wins over the hesitant women, while Cristina Panfilio's intelligent, and somewhat sexy Margaret the gentlewoman, unknowingly undoes Hero's virtue in a camoe brought to life in this production. This matches James Pickering's Dogberry, Constable of Messina, who emphasizes the folly to the village's hilarious officer, a man put in power where justice overcomes the tragedy in false accusations while adding comic touches.

Shakespeare's enduring comedy paraded the "nothing," in life and words, which incorporates the "noting" or another word for gossip and rumors in human culture, and the "nothing," that resides in the physique of a woman compared to that of a man. Shakespeare plays upon this "nothing" that also exists in contemporary culture, where the public might actually be unaware of what the actual truth is regarding a news article, written in a magazine, or perhaps in information spoken about a neighbor or someone in the community, whcih may or may not be true.

To dishonor reputations in the public eye leads to disastrous results, as Much Ado About Nothing actually proves is more than quite something. As might be defining people by their feminity or masculinity, perhaps as Beatrice, opposed to obeying a man, and Benedick, the self proclaimed bachelor,when they finally accept who they are separately and then celebrate this as a couple. The battle between the sexes may be best realized when noting their only difference might be great "nothing" between their physiques. Each gender needs to be loved for whoever they are, even if their great wits, whether seen as unladylikr or as a man unable to woo in rhyme as the dejected Benedick laments.

Shakespeare's dark display of betrayal by Erik Parks's Don John, in collusion with his henchman, Christopher Sheard's Conrade and Marcus Truschiniski's Barochio, points to the worst in human nature. Where at the heart of all humanity, the love and loyalty displayed with genuine sincerity by multiple of Shakespeare's characters, whether based in truth or falsehood, respects human existence. Even Mani's powerful retribution against his daughter Hero arises more from betrayal in a parent's cherished joy than a negative emotion. The tour de force scene makes Hero's necessary death to resurrect her reputation more redemptive. In the final scenes, redemption reigns for Messina, and then in the hearts of the audience for a exceptional evening of theater.

Morgan lets the costumes shine throughout the production, while a grand staircase with hidden places underneath or shaped hedges hide the two lovers, adding intrigue to the stage directions. Actors strolling through the theater aisles bring Shakespeare's characters right before the audience's eyes for their up close and personal pleasure. Be enchanted and enriched by APT's riveting Much Ado About Nothing.

During APT's evocative production of Much Ado About Nothing, the audience may come to an epiphany in their own lives. That Shakespeare's "nothings" defined the complexity to humanity's great "somethings." Where friendship and loyalty embue the human spirit so these qualities define incomparable worth in a life well lived, when love for family or another person becomes an priceless gift. Described best to the audience when Beatrice and Bendick tell each other, "I love you so there is nothing left in me."

American Players Theatre presents William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing through October 2014. For information, tickets or special programming, please call: 1.608.588.2361 or

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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan