I love watching Shakespeare done well, so I was ecstatic watching Villanova University’s production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
Director James Ijames in the program tells us he wanted to create, “a playground for imagination, creation, mischief and magic.”
He challenges the audience to engage their imaginations in this wondrous world of Messina. James continues, “I cast the play in such a way that gender, race and type illuminate the play but also allow us all to see the play in a new way.” Clearly, he cast the play for talent alone. Many of the cast are not the traditional “types” one would expect in this classic comedy. I have seen many professional productions of this play, but I got more about the heart of the play from this production than any of the more traditional productions. From the moment one sees Parris Bradley’s bucolic and garden-like set, the audience member knows that he or she are in for a wonderful ride. Director Ijames takes full advantage of the gameboard like set to move his actors to maximize the magic that they proffer through the story in the play.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is a love story. It explores love on many levels. The primary combat is between the witty Benedict and the pointedly combative Beatrice. From the beginning they establish the verbal skirmishing that has dominated their relationship. By the end they release their verbal protection and realize that they are meant for each other. Leo Bond is a charming Benedict and Megan Slater is a comically witty adversary. Through their development, they show that the worst in us is sometimes indicative of a serious fear of the best of us. They are wonderfully matched, and the audience wants to see them together even though they “protest too much.”
The second set of lovers is Claudio (Nikitas Menotiades) and Hero (a comely Mary Lyon). As they fall in and out and in again of love, they play with a truth that urges the audience to accept the action no matter how improbable it may appear. Playing the villain of the play, Don John, Alexandra King is wonderfully menacing and tortured. Her hatred and self-loathing make her both distasteful and pitiable. She is a commanding presence whenever on stage.
The elders in this group Don Pedro (Sisi Wright) and Leonato (Shawneen Rowe) are wonderful as they wander through the emotions that the plot offers them in the story. They are part whimsy and part gravitas. The two older characters guide the young and credibly play the victims of Don John’s duplicity. An interesting subtext that this production offers is how the soldiers who are so comfortable in battle are so ungainly in the ways of peace.
As if the play were not funny enough, Shakespeare introduces the character of Dogberry (played energetically and ingenuously by Elizabeth Meisenzahl). She is complemented effectively by her underling Verges (played whimsically and obsequiously by Tara Demmy). The constable masters malapropism and confusion and with her merry band ignite a laughter that never stops. Although everyone in this ensemble is worthy of praise, I would like to single out Mina Kawahara who plays many parts and contributes instrumental and vocal accents to the play.
In addition to the wonderful set, director Ijames receives great support from his staff: Samantha Reading’s inventive choreography; Janus Stefanowicz’s universal costumes; Andrea Rumble-Moore’s lighting design; and Michael Kiley’s complementary sound design and original music. The real beneficiaries are the audience who get to spend time in Messina, Sicily with these loveable, laughable and engaging characters. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING plays until April 22nd. For tickets call 610.519.7474 or go online at www.villanovatheatre.org.