Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Much Ado About Nothing"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark


"Much Ado About Nothing"

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Adam Zahler
Choreography by Scott West
Music Direction by Nathan Holt

Set Design by Joanne Kulibaba
Lighting Design by Mara Fishman
Costume Design by Rachel Padula
Sound Design by Ben Arons
Stage Manager Julianne Wilkes

Beatrice..........................Karen Chamberlain
Benedick........................John Rahal Sarrouf
Hero.......................................Juliet Gowing
Claudio......................................Zach White
Margaret.................................Traci Crouch
Don Pedro................................Paul Barrett
Antonio......................................Jerry Flynn
Ursula/Sexton..........................Dyan Smiley
Verges.....................................Amy Rhodes
Don John/ Dogberry.........Brett Malinowski
Borachio.............................Marty Simmons
Conrade.................................J. C. DeVore
Balthazar....................................Ben Arons

The Wheels of Phoebus
Organ..............................Jordan Holt
Saxophone & Flute.....Michael Raskin
Bass................................David Palan
Drms, Band Leader...........Ben Arons


I must have enjoyed myself far too much at this delight-filled show, and half a dozen lead-sentences have been boiling about in my mind, fighting for precedence, and the review is still unwritten. Of course, you don't need to read any of them to understand the subtext under them all ("What are you reading this for? Go See The Show!"), so I'll just list them --- in no particular order of relevance:

1. It's the music, stupid!
Any show that starts with a four-piece jazz band sitting on stage must emphasize the lyrical. Here the quartet cooks for two great dance numbers , and the leader steps forward to sing lovingly modern melodies to Will Shaxpy's verses --- but it's the music of the text that sings here, whether with a backbeat or no.

2. Shakespeare is alive and well and living in Somerville.
Over 300 hundred years many words lose their meanings, but the battles of the sexes --- verbal as well as "mortal" --- are always as fresh and up-to date as actors can make them. A good cast like this one can make the sense of every sentence sing whether the occasional word on the page might need footnoting. This show is transparently lovely.

3. Karen Chamberlain's Beatrice so eloquently flays the reputation of Benedick in the very opening of this show that John Rahal Sarrouf must needs fight for his life when he enters --- and he does!
The scenes these two have, alone together or showing off to their appreciative friends, are duels of old adversaries admiring at every turn of phrase the skills of their opponents. And so of course they are equally skilled at admitting a love growing out of that mutual respect.

4. This isn't a play about the eagerly youthful and cruelly slandered love of Claudio and Hero --- except when Juliet Gowing and Zach White are on stage.
The very air between these two vibrates with passion, and their faces often speak, in silent pauses, as much as words could ever say. They are young and easily duped, but the course of their true love eventually does run smooth.

5. You've got to love a production of this comedy in which the trio of knavish villains come to the masquerade disguised as the Marx Brothers.
Brett Milanowski as that "plain-dealing villain" Don John speaks his calumnies against Hero's chastity, and cuts Marty Simmon's later-repentant Borachio and J. C. DeVore's Conrade in on the deal, as a mere mischief that nearly wrecks a betrothal. Luckily their lies are not believed for long.

6. Designer Joanne Kulibaba has put this energetic comedy on a platform that thrusts it in your very faces, and has actors sharing stage-side tables with the spectators.
Add to her fairy-lighted backdrop of a huge mask the contemporary fashion of Rachel Padula's costumes, and you get a "Much Ado" that is as in-amongst-us as a jet-set segment of the daily news. And Mara Fishman's selfless lighting focuses attention on the spinning action with bang-up, bang-down efficiency.

7. This is the first show partner-dancer Scott West has choreographed; it won't be his last.
I doubt I have ever seen a cast enjoy cutting rugs as enthusiastically as this one, and West has seen to it that everyone gets a centerstage spin that echoes their characters down to twinkling toes.

8. Just as this show has a trio of knaves, it has a trio of Kops to thwart them --- and Brett Milanowski heads both teams.
So what if Milanowski's malapropos Dogberry and his stern sidekick Amy Rhodes tell Keith Mascoll's patrolman Seacoal (by the book) that his most important post is the local Dunkin' Donuts every night? They get their men, don't they? In old London or in tonight's Somerville, cops will be Kops.

9. Let's hear it for greybeards!
In a play that is replete with trios, Joe Owens (Leonato), Paul Barrett (Don Pedro) and Jerry Flynn (Antonio) are the sage elders who cannot be fooled for long, and slyly lie the hapless young lovers back into one another's arms.

10. This production of "Much Ado" has a plethora of quick-changing scene-swellers.
Here Traci Crouch as the saucily sexy Margaret, Dyan Smiley as both the witty Ursula and the witless Sexton, and Keith Mascoll as patrolman Seacoal and Friar Francis And the messenger (he's a trio all by himself!) enlarge and enliven fair Messina where their scene is set. Their job in many cases is to be outshone, yet shine they do.

11. Director Adam Zahler's "Much Ado" grabs you by the throat and drags you so quickly into the wit and raillery there's no time to think
He is blessed with a brilliant cast, and he has seen to it that every one of them knows not only that they perform for the delight of one another onstage, but for the delight of those offstage as well. He has seen to it that language, body language and even eloquent pausings can have a lilt and meaning, so long as they are perfectly phrased.

12. Marry sir, they have committed droll comedy; moreover, they have spoken Shakespeare; secondarily, their play is good; sixth and lastly, they have enlivened the Bard; thirdly, they have done funny things; and, to conclude, I had a ball.

What are you reading this for? Go See The Show!

Love,
===Anon.


"Much Ado About Nothing" (till 17 April)
PEABODY HOUSE THEATRE
277 Broadway, SOMERVILLE
1(617)625-1300 1(617)931-2000

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