Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing Review (X*ACT Theater, Xenia)

As a student of literature in all forms, of course I have spent some time with the Bard. Shakespeare's collective works are some of the most treasured and widely read of any author that has ever lived. You may even remember that I took a turn acting in one of his plays, from this post right here. I had a great time performing as the villain, Don John, and I did a lot of work studying the play, Much Ado About Nothing. Happily, another production of Much Ado is being put on at the Xenia Area Community Theater and I was very fortunate to be able to see it Opening Night this past Friday. This one was directed by Lisa Howard-Welch and was an incredible amount of fun to watch. And, would you believe it, there's a trailer for this play. And its pretty damn good too.

Absolutely gorgeous artwork by Jacinda Bridger

The cast was led by veteran actors Juliet Howard-Welch and Josh Katawick as the featured lovers, Beatrice and Benedick. Their talent and charisma kept me engaged with the show and had me laughing my pants off for most of the first half. I seriously snorted a couple of times, which is so embarrassing I had to put it on the internet for everyone to see how funny this show is. There is a palpable tension between the two, even when they are not on stage together. Katawick shows off his Shakespearean acting chops and pulls of some very impressive monologues, but all the while Beatrice's presence is felt hanging over him. When Howard-Welch is on stage without Katawick, Beatrice often gives this kind of faraway look, like Benedick is the one thing on her mind. It is wonderful to see and it is interesting to notice how it brings the love story to life through a character's absence. Their true strength, however, was when they were together. It was a treat to be able to see them both throwing barbs and jokes at one another, and then just a short while later professing their love through some of my favorite lines ever written: "And, I pray thee now, tell me for which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?" ... "But for which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?"

Photo by Lisa Bernheim
The real asset at the core of this particular production that I have not seen in many plays was the quality of the cast in its entirety. The supporting characters (because let's face it, any character that isn't Beatrice or Benedick or Dogberry is a supporting character) were my favorite part of the whole damn thing. Every character had personality and quirks and gags and jokes and things to do and people to kiss (I think that when in the background, actors were directed to find someone to smooch so as not to be boring, and it works). Some of the best moments however were when things quieted down and singing ensued. It added a whole lot to the production value, and the songs and the sets and the costumes gave the play a 1920's Great Gatsby feel. The singers, Ofoname Eguaroje and Haley Justice, were fantastic, and when they started singing amidst the chaos everything took a back seat, just like when Harpo would rein in the insanity of a Marx Bros. movie with his beautiful harp music.

Amongst the other characters, Don Pedro the Prince was a particular joy to watch and was phenomenally played by Tony Copper. His comedic delivery and facial expressions and stage presence were fun and funny parts of this show, but no more so than when cornered by an amorous Balthasar (portrayed exceedingly and hilariously well by Jacinda Bridger).

Photo by Lisa Bernheim. This was the funniest thing I have ever seen.
Some of the trickiest roles to play in this comedy are the villains. I mentioned before that I do not think that the villains are written very well. I still don't. Their motivations are unclear, they're very serious parts in a very non-serious play, and they kind of disappear without any resolution to their stories. Don John (Austin Smith), Borachio (John Fredland), and Conrade (Michelle Graham) were all played with a fullness and depth that is very rarely seen in this play (just watch Kenneth Branagh's version to see how shallow these characters can be). These characters have a relationship. They feel real. They have a reason for being villains, and god dammit they're entertaining. Smith plays Don John with a lazy sort of disdain that shows in his costumes, his line delivery, and his posture. Every time you look at him he's leaning on something, like he can't be bothered to stand up. It is wonderful. These actors give their characters a true "bad boy" feel, and there were a couple of times that it made me think of the rival greasers in Grease, The Scorpions. They wouldn't have been out of place in a hot rod racing the other characters for their cars with cigarettes rolled up in their sleeves. They made being the bad guys look so cool.

Photo by Lisa Bernheim. Austin Smith as Don John.

While I've been praising some of the characters for having so much personality, I have to do the unthinkable and criticize some of the characters for having so much personality. The Watch and Dogberry are meant to be some of the funniest parts in this already funny show. These characters carry the comedy through the second half, when most of the other characters get rather serious and grave. I think these actors tried to do too much, and a lot of the hilarity was lost on me. Dogberry (Kathleen Day) had a great look, like a cross between some kind of game warden and a police officer, but was sadly very quiet. Many of Dogberry's malapropisms and jokes were lost due to loud stage movement by other characters, which was in no short supply from the Watch. The best way to describe the Watch in this show would be to say that they had an excess of personality, and it was hard to focus on the main action with all of their antics going on. Instead of being funny it came off as confusing, and my companions (who had not read or seen Much Ado About Nothing before) tapped me on the shoulder several times with questions about what was going on.

Even considering some plodding tempo in the second half, this was a great show. It is very accessible to those unaccustomed to Shakespearean language, and is about one of the funniest things I've seen in a long while. I can't stress enough how much my companions and I laughed while watching this. I enjoyed this show immensely and I hope everyone catches this gem in its second weekend, June 22-24 at the Xenia Area Community Theater. Call 937-372-0516 for tickets, and don't miss out!

No comments:

Post a Comment