Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Much Ado About Nothing"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey

Merry "Much Ado"
at Project Shakespeare

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

Shakespeare isn't only for adults. Shakespeare isn't only for scholars. On Monday and Tuesday last week and this, the students of Project Shakespeare --- the brainchild of outgoing Publick Theatre Executive Director Deborah Schoenberg --- are mounting two of the Bard's most famous works. From my past experience with the Project, I find that the productions are as good as any professional performances (and often better) and certainly clearer.

At the Project's "Much Ado About Nothing" you don't miss a thought, an idea or a single line. Shakespeare's joyous and perilous romp through the mating-wars gets the comedy it deserves and the pathos too, in director Peter Carey's fast moving show.

Where professional productions have the luxury of casting according to age and type, Project Shakespeare more than makes up for the dearth, in energy and resourcefulness. This "Much Ado" is non-traditionally cast...i.e. many of the male roles are played --- and brillinatly I might add --- by female actors, but played as they are written. This is only turnabout fair play, since men used to act All the roles, in Shakespeare's day.

Carey and assistant director Ilyse Robbins --- who also choreographed the festival Elizabethan "reel --- open up the play so deftly that you're keenly aware of subtle foreshadowing (Hero's offhand remarks about one "ill word" poisoning love) and the elegant plot turns (like the Friar's plan to shield Hero from gossip) which often get lost in the shuffle of flashy star-studded productions. And what a cast Carey and Robbins have to work with!

Rose Costello (so moving as Viola in last year's "Twelfth Night" captures the mature bearing of a father tormented by false accusations against his family. Lisa Szolovits, too, is charming as Costello's over-zealous brother. Rebecca Manning gives a heartbreaking performance as a carefree child forced to face the cruel world because of a false charge. Angela Dugas is a spirited Beatrice, fiery and smug as Lady Disdain --- a perfect match for the pompous but heroic Benedick, played to the hilt with bravado by Nathan Gundy. Shannon Frederick is a spunky gentlewoman, and Laura DeCosta a steadfast confidante.

Arjun Jaikumar is the charismatic but headstrong Prince who plans to "practice" deceit on Benedick to trick him into marriage but who is practiced against by his evil brother...portrayed with visceral bile by Kate Seavey, aided and abetted by Samuel Slavin's Mafioso henchman (This is Italy after all.) and by Alison Colby as a spineless neer-do-well. Dylan Gamblin is a dashing but callous Claudio (who is forgiven for his part in the treachery too easily for my taste) and court music is supplied by the talented duo of David Jette and Alexandra Hanson.

The plum role of Dogberry goes to Mary Arida (so wonderful last year as Sir Toby in "Twelfth Night"). Arida and Lauren Muchan as his deputy cavort and mangle, managing to strike each other in their misplaced high-fives: hilarious hijinks all around, including bumbling watchmen Emily Galen, Rachel Horst, Drew Bucilla and Esme von Hoffman. Anthony Carrigan as the Friar gives a striking performance as the clever prelate ready with a plan to save the day.

Everyone, from Christopher Clinton's Gentleman to Schyler Bowditch's Sexton infused their roles with heart and enthusiasm. Bravo

No Question; don't hesitate To Be at the Publick Monday or Tuesday for Project Shakespeare's second production (and the rest of the week for heartwarming performances of "Gypsy")

"Much Ado About Nothing" (14 & 15 August)
@ The Publick Theatre, Christian A. Herter Park, Soldiers Field Road, BOSTON
1(617) 782-5425

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide