BWW Review: Next Stop's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Warm Winter Fare
Adventurous theatre-goers, take note: a short drive beyond the Beltway, just off the Dulles Access Road, sits Next Stop Theatre Company, a troupe with a growing reputation for solid acting; their current production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing is an excellent introduction to the growing theatre scene in Herndon, Reston and beyond-a scene which will become much closer as the Silver Line makes its progress to Dulles Airport.
A spirited romantic comedy, featuring the ultimate "Battle of the Sexes" pairing of misogynist Benedick and tongue-lashing amazon Beatrice, Much Ado is a perennial favorite for fans of the Bard; and director Abigail Isaac Fine manages to ring enough changes on the old story to keep audiences engaged for its 2+ hours' traffic on the stage. The cast is clearly at ease with Shakespeare's language, and the scenes flow naturally into each other; set in the early 60's, with a clever soundtrack of hits from that era (assembled by Reid May), we are treated to the usual themes of opposites attract, jealousy, revenge, and-of course-marriage.
What makes Much Ado more interesting than your average sitcom is Shakespeare's willingness to take you straight to hell and back; the obstacles here are a refracted image of the diabolical Iago's plot against Othello and Desdemona, but with a resolution so improbable that it's clear he's reminding you it's just a play; you can really see the puppets dallying with this one. Set Designer Elizabeth McFadden makes good use of this intimate black-box space, with a touch of sand, stucco and venetian arches, and Jonathan Abolins keeps this sunny scene well lit.
Kari Ginsburg offers us a mature, wiser and warier Beatrice, whose sharp wit clearly hides a vulnerability lurking just beneath her facile surface. As her foil, Benedick, Jonathan Lee Taylor gives us just enough guy-as-clueless-idiot that you can almost forgive him for trashing Beatrice; funny how Shakespeare makes the men look much, much worse for wear.
The other romantic couple, while sketchily drawn, provides the drama: Beatrice's young cousin Hero is given a fine turn by Brittany Martz, who is decked out by costumer Stephanie Fisher in some memorable period dresses (the bridal gown's a stunner). Benjamin Stoll gives us the seemingly stiff but volatile Claudio, whose obsessive devotion to Hero gets its full expression not in dialogue but in song. Allen McRae and Lisa Hill-Corley put in strong performances as the elders, Leonato and his sister Antonia, who have the thankless task of trying to keep their girls in line; and in an interesting bit of double-casting Gary DuBreuil convinces as both the diabolical Borachio and the insightful Friar.
With double-casting, however, comes the dilemma: how to tell them apart? In DeBreuil's case the difference between servant and priest is crystal clear, but in the case of Robert Pike, who doubles as both the bad guy Don John and the comic constable Dogberry, the lack of a clear contrast in terms of color or line makes for some confusion. There is also the opposite temptation, when doubling up, to render one of your other characters in more extreme terms. This leads to an unfortunate sequence for both Dogberry and his 'Watchmen,' with mugging that becomes a real distraction. Pike tends to overplay Dogberry's twisted vocabulary; to my mind, the character is funnier when the lines are delivered straight, as if it were the most normal way of speaking in the world. And as for his crew, It might be a good idea to review Hamlet's advice that the clowns do no more than is set down for them...
Quibbles aside, there are some revelatory moments here; James Finley, for example, does a nice turn as Don Pedro (another thinly drawn character), and his private moment with Beatrice is an instance where the fun of the plot gives way some real emotion.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission
Production Photo: Hero (Brittany Martz, seated) prepares for her wedding with Beatrice (Kari Ginsburg) and Margaret (Valerie Adams Rigsbee). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.
Performances are through February 12 at the Next Stop Theatre, 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon Virginia. Tickets can be ordered by calling Ovation Tix at (866)-811-4111, or online at: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/955610 .