Much Ado About Nothing: a Modern Play
The Shakespeare Tavern Puts on a Show
The atmosphere, from the first step into the Shakespeare Tavern, feels very much like one from the 17th century. Down the wooden stairs, the staff is dressed in Shakespearean attire and directs the members of the audience to their seats in the old-fashioned area where the play will take place. Guests are able to enjoy a traditional British meal before watching a modernized, audience-interactive version of Much Ado About Nothing, a play written by Shakespeare, but adapted and directed by Laura Cole. While Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship fueled the comedy of the play as expected, each actor had their own personal touch to make their character come alive and be amusing. The play itself, however, was much more modern than I had expected, but included a meticulous, race-blind casting.
Beatrice and Benedick, although supposed to have a “merry war… a skirmish of wit between them” (1.1.50-51) seemed very close to one another from the beginning; Beatrice herself was portrayed as a drunk by constantly holding a glass. Although they did use the same lines from the play itself to contribute to the wit war between both characters, such as “he hath an excellent stomach” (1.1.41-42), they did so while flirting with one another and almost kissed, which serves as a forewarning that they will later fall in love with one another. Subjectively, I believe this takes away from the tricks later played upon them, but it could lead to a positive “ah-ha, I knew it” moment later on for any members of the audience who have yet to read the play. Beatrice, played by Kati Grace Brown, was depicted as an inebriated woman who was constantly drinking, which partially adds to the comedy, but also has the deeper meaning that at the time, women were never courageous enough to be witty, and is, therefore, an explanation for Beatrice’s behavior towards men, feelings about marriage, and overall wit. However, there were certain times, such as when Beatrice was running around trying to hide to listen to Hero and Ursula talking about Benedick’s love for her, when we could see the actors, especially Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Halicks, begin to laugh. Personally, I felt like this made the performance less realistic and make me think “oh right, these are actors, not the actual characters.”
Hero and Claudio showed affection right from the get-go, which answered my own question about their relationship from simply reading the play: did Hero ever actually love Claudio? At the end of their first time being together on stage, it was very clear that they longed to be with one another. Anthony Peeples, playing Claudio, simply made this play as amusing as it was by making his character extremely overdramatic and quirky. Claudio was basically portrayed as a child in a man’s body: he threw tantrums, cried on the floor, and said he was going to kill himself; he even went as far as to take the spoon from a member of the audience to pretend to kill himself after getting jealous from seeing Hero with Don Pedro at the dance. His constant moving around between the stage and the floor where the audience was seated made it an interactive experience for those at the tables, which can either be positive or negative, depending on the experience you are looking for. I would rather watch the play than be a part of it, so seeing it from above was exactly what I needed, but if you are looking for something a little more exciting and entertaining, a front-row table seat might be just what you need. Although Peeples’ portrayal of Claudio was fitting and just what I had imagined Claudio would be like, Hero was very different from what I had envisioned. She was much sassier than what the play makes her out to be; for example, she was constantly talking and gossiping with Margaret and Ursula, loudly defended herself at her wedding when she got up and said “I talked with no man at that hour, my lord” (4.1.85), and did modern, witty gestures, such as snapping her fingers. I had hoped that they would show the scene where Margaret is mistaken for Hero in order to see how they would have played it off using Hero’s dress, since that is what would have been done dure Shakespeare’s time due to Sumptuary Laws, but unfortunately, they did not do so.
In terms of play adaptation, they modernized it quite a bit and had a non-biased racial casting, which was very refreshing to see. The actors made the play feel much more recent by adding in modern behavior such as high fives and snaps. They also changed quotes, such as “piece of… dust” (2.1.48) to make it seem as if she was about to say the known saying “piece of shit” but changed it to “dust” instead and, when Claudio finally marries “Hero’s cousin,” he says he will love and marry her “even if she preferred Pepsi over coke,” a line I am sure was never written by Shakespeare. Although I believe the modernization of the play is fitting for this sort of environment and audience, I thought it took away from the main thematic elements of Much Ado About Nothing and was mainly to get laughter from the guests. It was also very clear that race played no part in the casting, since Leonato and his brother are two difference races, which was very nice to see in today’s world, where race plays less and less of a role in daily life. While Leonato and Antonio are African-American and Caucasian, respectively, their daughters, Hero and Beatrice, are the same race as their fathers, which helped with character identification. Don Pedro and Don Jon are also different races, even though they are step-brothers, which fortifies the race-blind casting.
An overall good, funny play in a very family-friendly, old-fashioned environment, I enjoyed my night and would recommend it to any Shakespeare fan. Although having a vague knowledge of the play beforehand is highly recommended in order to fully understand what is happening, it is not required since the actors play their role very well, allowing for an easy following of the play and for easy character identification.
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