Review: American Shakespeare Center's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is a Treat for All Seasons

Performances will run through November 19, and will be joined in repertory with Hamlet and Coriolanus by late September-early October.

By: Aug. 12, 2023
Review: American Shakespeare Center's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is a Treat for All Seasons
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As the Summer draws to a hot close, and school days loom on the near horizon, it’s good to know that some childish antics will survive well into the Fall.  The American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia, has pulled out the stops with Shakespeare’s zany take on the battle of the sexes, Much Ado About Nothing

The story revolves primarily around two great wits, Benedick and Beatrice, whose invective slams are not to be missed.  Nic Sanchez’s Benedick is a study in male cluelessness, the guy who thinks he’s the life of the party, no matter how corny his jokes are; Corrie Green’s Beatrice, meanwhile, is the hellfire-and-brimstone version of womanhood, once burned and determined never to get scorched again.  The ways in which mutual friends con this couple into matrimony become the driving force in the comic plot here, and both Sanchez and Green prove their slapstick talents as they eavesdrop on friends to learn the ‘truth’ about each other, and themselves.

In contrast to these two jaded lovers, their younger companions—Beatrice’s cousin, Hero, and Benedick’s comrade-at-arms Claudio—have fallen for each other at first sight and can’t wait to tie the knot.  That their journey to the altar will have its dark, nearly-tragic detours becomes the other dominant theme.  Love can not only be blind, it can be extremely fragile and vulnerable to suggestion.

Chaos reigns supreme, with the cast literally falling all over itself—and the audience—to show what fools we mortals be, but there are also moments of reflection and pathos.  The darkness descends when Don John (the cool, reserved Gabriela Castillo-Miranda), a prince-hostage taken in a recent conflict, plots to destroy Hero’s reputation and wreck Claudio’s marriage.  (Spaniards had the run of many places in Italy in Shakespeare’s day, and become a very useful plot element here.)

Don John’s plot succeeds spectacularly, and Hero is publicly accused of adultery, by Claudio, at what was supposed to be their wedding.  And it is at this point in most productions when the question of dramatic balance becomes acute.  How heavy will this scene be?  How gut-wrenching the aftermath?  The answer comes in the person of Angela Iannone’s incomparable Leonato.  As Hero’s father, Iannone’s dignity and rage seem to have no top and no bottom, and in the immediate aftermath of the wrecked marriage ceremony she takes you to the lowest emotional depths.  Which renders the rest of the action that much more exquisite.

As for the ‘true’ romantic leads, Claudio and Hero, ASC stalwarts Brandon Carter and Meg Rodgers remind us why Blackfriars is where you come to see great acting.  Carter, with his rugged good looks, has to play Claudio as strong but clueless, and of course anxious for his honor.  He has also set Hero's dirge to a really touching, traditional tune, which can haunt you and make you almost forget there's a happy ending in the works.  Rodgers, meanwhile, has to play the innocent who is trapped in the most impossible of situations.  The forces working against them are eventually defeated, and their reunion is as sweet as any you will see.

Supporting players are essential to Shakespeare, and he wrote them so well here; Aidan O’Reilly brings a mellifluous calm to the role of Friar Francis, who has to preside over the botched wedding, and spark its aftermath.  Meanwhile for contrast you can’t beat Philip Orazio’s Dogberry, whose clumsy wordplay is matched, to the syllable, by his clumsy physicality.  Then you have Alexis Baigue, whose bearded Margaret (in a tasteful ensemble, gold skirt, quilted doublet and blue jacket) can be counted on to cut through anything with a quick joke.

Musical selections here were both touching and clever; personal highlights included Aidan O’Reilly holding forth with his brilliant, honky-tonk version of John Prine’s paean to friendship, “A Good Time,” while Baigue whooped it up with a pitch-perfect rendition of the B-52’s classic “Love Shack.”  Not to be outdone, given the name of one of the romantic leads, for the intermission music break you had a medley of hit songs with “hero” as their theme, from ‘needing’ a hero, ‘not needing’ a hero, to… well, you get the idea.

As the Fall closes in and your boisterous spirits start to wane, you’re going to need this show; get thee to Staunton, and thou shalt not regret it.

Running Time: 2 hours, plus one 15-minute intermission.

Production Photo: Meg Rodgers, Brandon Carter, Corrie Green and Nic Sanchez.  Photo by October Grace Media.

Masking Policy: ASC no longer requires proof of vaccination or universal masking..  We strongly encourage patrons to mask when possible. ASC is monitoring local, state, and federal guidelines and will update this policy as necessary.

NOTE: Much Ado About Nothing will run through November 19, and will be joined in repertory with Hamlet and Coriolanus by late September-early October.

Ticket prices range from $33.00 - $65.00.

All performances are at the Blackfriars Playhouse, 10 S. Market Street, Staunton Virginia.

For information and tickets please visit:

http://www.americanshakespearecenter.com/




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