Much Ado Thrusts into Spotlight

Jessie Kathan, News Editor

Dance numbers, crazy characters, and plenty of pelvic thrusts greeted show goers last weekend.

It wasn’t a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but drama’s performance of the Shakespearean comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. For a cast that spent last year doing entirely dramatic performances (The Laramie Project, Romeo and Juliet), the program’s foray into more lighthearted fare was, although not without flaws, a rousing success.

The play followed two relationships: Claudio and Hero (Kyle Merryman and Brooke Penfold) and Beatrice and Benedick (Sarah Firth and Will Stone). The comedy included verbal sparring between Beatrice and Benedick, young love between Hero and Claudio, and a jealous brother of the king who hatched a scheme of deceit.

The primary challenge for the cast was the burden of effectively communicating the complicated plot with archaic and, at times, confusing language. With a Shakespearean production, more responsibility lies on the cast’s acting chops to convey meaning and keep the audience on track. There were times, especially during lengthy banter, when the effort lagged and it became difficult to understand the dialogue, but on the whole the cast showed a tremendous ability to maintain momentum.

The second challenge actors faced was that of achieving delicate balance between having a modern aesthetic while not looking tacky or overdone. The play was set in the sixties, in an atmosphere similar to the dramatic television show “Mad Men.” The minimalist stage setting –with only a table with chairs and two translucent screens– and the deliberate costume choices provided a frame for the story without shoving the sixties theme down the audience’s collective throats.

The only false note occurred when the cast came together to sing All You Need is Love, which, thankfully, quickly became a fight and then a choreographed dance number.

Although the female leads stood out, it was mainly the boys who made the show memorable. Stone portrayed a delightfully humorous and slightly unsettling Benedick, and Merryman handled scenes that could have easily become overwrought with grace and dignity. Don Pedro, (Jacob Phillips, he of the pelvic thrusts) shifted from humor to drama effortlessly, and his stage presence was commendable.

Acting subtleties aside, it was the physicality and the playfulness of the production that was most engaging. The actors made full use of both the orchestra pit and the front of the audience seating, even running a shopping cart between rows of audience members.

The run marked the beginning of one of the funniest scenes in the performance, with a cockney accent by Drew Jackson and more drunken buffoonery from Mina Aresteh. While no one broke character in the face of the laughter from the audience, there was a definite sense that the cast was having fun with the script, which made for a more engaging performance.