Much Ado About Nothing at Silver Spring Stage through April 17. Photo by Harvey Levine.
REVIEW • BY STEVE LAROCQUE
Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl fall in love. Boy’s sidekick meets Girl’s cousin. Neither can stand the other at first, but they fuss at each other oh-so-wittily, and at length they fall in love, too. Everyone gets married.
How’s that for reduced Shakespeare?
Much Ado About Nothing, is, of course, much more complicated, but basically it turns out as above. What elevates Shakespeare’s comedy above the typical boy-meets-girl story are the wonderful details: the evil brother’s scheme to undo the nuptials and to work mischief in general; a fake death; tons of misinformation and hasty conclusions; and, of course, that exquisite Shakespearian language.
Photo by Harvey Levine.
In Silver Spring Stage’s production of Much Ado, running through April 17, you get all the basics. Director Andrew Greenleaf and his cast put the story across with energy and panache, which isn’t easy with a play that has more than its share of red herrings.
As critic Kenneth Muir notes, there are at least seven sources of rumor in the play; five crucial misunderstandings are conveyed in the dance scene alone. Characters jump to conclusions, based on what they hear while eavesdropping on conversations, some of which are meant to be overheard. As Director Greenleaf points out in his Program Notes, this timeless kind of misunderstanding persists to our day.
And there’s another challenge for modern audiences, who tend to expect psychological consistency in their stories: Shakespeare’s plot takes some pretty weird turns.
One example: after bride-to-be Hero (Kelly Shaughnessy) is left at the altar by her intended, Claudio (Alex Bassett), who publicly presents (erroneous) evidence that she has been unchaste, her father Leonato (Louis Pangaro) drops her like a hot rock, wishing her dead. Would a father do this to his only child?
Photo by Harvey Levine.
It’s pretty clear that, if Love is to triumph, it’s going to need help, not from the high-borns, but from the underlings: constable Dogberry (Nick Sampson); his deputy Verges (David Gorsline); and Father Francis (Michael Sigler). And they do indeed deliver, hatching a crafty fake-death scheme, imparting crucial new information in the nick of time, and saving the nuptials.
But what about those young people? Isn’t the play, after all, about them?
There are Claudio and Hero, who fall in love right off the bat. And then there’s the pair that we’re really interested in: tart-tongued Beatrice (Kristen Page-Kirby) and above-it-all Benedick (Keith Cassidy). You just know that two people who detest each other so thoroughly at the outset are destined to be together at the end.
Claudio and Hero, the conventional couple, are usually considered less interesting, because they’re … well … conventional. Ignore the evil brother’s plot against them, the father’s astonishing betrayal, the fake death of Hero, and the dramatic unmasking of the scheming brother, and what have you got? A ho-hum love story.
On the other hand, with Beatrice and Benedick, you’ve got wit, wordplay, antipathy overtaken by true emotion, written testimonies of love falling into unexpected hands, and relentless overheard conversations. This should be a slam dunk – right?
Well, not really.
For one thing, Claudio and Hero are a really cute couple; you want to put them on a wedding cake. Maybe the Elizabethans preferred the trenchant wit of Beatrice and Benedick, but we live in the age of DWTS and Wonderwall; how can we not go with the Beautiful People?
Photo by Harvey Levine.
And then there’s the language. Shakespeare wrote it, so it’s terrific, but we moderns have to put it across. And here the results vary.
A lot of lines – not only Beatrice’s and Benedick’s, but many of the cast’s – land sporadically: occasionally, words disappear at the end of sentences, and phrases implode as emotions get out of hand. All we’re left with is the general impression that they’re worked up about something, but darned if we can figure out what.
However, a few of the cast do deliver consistently. Nello Deblasio, as Boracio, the evil brother’s henchman, and Nick Sampson, as Dogberry, the loquacious constable, draw us into their mental universes with timing, phrasing, and gesture, and don’t let us wander.
And maybe we’re fated not to get it all, no matter how skillfully it’s put across by any cast, because we’re not Elizabethans; perhaps we should take what we can get – which, in the case of Silver Spring Stage’s Much Ado About Nothing, is quite a lot. It’s a solid effort, deserving of good audiences.
Other notes: John Decker’s set is a visual treat – clean, imaginative, and functional. Nick Sampson’s sound design and the live music, performed by Michael Sigler, enhance the story elegantly and effectively.
By William Shakespeare; directed by Andrew Greenleaf; set by John Decker; costumes by Kat Beem; lighting by Don Slater; sound by Nick Sampson. Silver Spring Stage, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD. Through April 17; Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays (April 3 & 10) at 2pm. Running time: 2 hrs 30 min (including a 15 min intermission).
Cast: Alex Bassett, Keith Cassidy, Nello Deblasio, John Decker, David Gorsline, Bill Hurlbut, Craig Miller, Kristen Page-Kirby, Louis Pangaro, Nick Sampson, Kelly Shaughnessy, Michael Sigler, Lena Winter