Shakespeare's language sparkles in 'Much Ado About Nothing' from The Classics Theatre Project
By Cristee Cook
The Classics Theatre Project returns to live theatre with a charming adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, now playing through June 27th on the lawn outside of the Stone Cottage at Addison Conference and Theatre Center. Much Ado About Nothing is a comedic play about misunderstandings, love, and deception, with prevalent themes about friendship and entertainment.
I spoke with TCTP Artistic Director Joey Folsom a few weeks ago, and he shared that the production was designed to be a refreshing return to theatre for audiences. I chose to invite one of my best friends to join me, and this outing was our pandemic reunion. Our hearts were light – partly because we felt safe socializing, and partly because there is something magical about sitting under the stars with someone you care about and watching Shakespeare. Considering our friendship began in a college theatre department, outdoor Shakespeare is a classic scenario, and I know I echo many when I say we have desperately missed it.
Directed and Adapted by Nic McMinn, TCTP’s Much Ado applies a concept to Shakespeare’s play. In this version, the idyllic Italian town of Messina and the home of well-to-do Leonato is a backyard soiree. The soldiers coming home are a baseball team: The Aragon Soldiers.
Set in the 1990’s with creative costumes, music, and dancing, the production succeeds in its goal of offering lighthearted nostalgia. Having the play set in a specific period helps to visually anchor the story. But even with all of that, the focus in this production is on Shakespeare’s language. TCTP’s production is simple. You won’t see a lot of scenery changes or elaborate lighting designs, and this is something I really like about it. It is charming and authentic, and under McMinn's direction, the actors' mastery of Shakespeare's language brings the play to life.
The ensemble is strong overall and delivers the humor of the play from the outset. McMinn has included musical interludes and, continuing with the 1990’s theme, has chosen popular pop songs from the period to act as commentary or transition from one scene to the next. McMinn’s adaptation of the play gets to the heart of the story, with the themes of friendship and entertainment most apparent.
TCTP Newcomer Blake Hametner is a surprisingly strong Claudio, and pairs well with Joey Folsom (Benedick). Shakespeare’s rendering of the two friends is full of word play: not just double entendre and bachelor humor, but also the making fun of the elite’s use of language. No small task. On the night I attended, the pair was in top form with a brotherly quality; old friends with years of private jokes between them.
The standout performances, however, are from Folsom and Rhonda Rose (Beatrice). Both characters resist the ideas of the traditional, society-approved structure of love and partnership. So, when they finally tell the truth about their feelings for one another, it is a powerful and emotional moment made more so by their vulnerable performances. Again, the actors’ mastery of Shakespeare’s language in this production is part of what makes it sparkle, and Folsom and Rose lead the way.
Maybe I was influenced by my emotions of friendship reunion, my own nostalgic memories of coming-of-age in the 1990s, or just the power of Shakespeare under the stars - but I think this small, independent production of Much Ado enunciates what we all love about live performance. It's much more than it seems on the surface, and honors the classic beauty of a Shakespeare play while bringing a fresh perspective to the story. Pack a picnic and a sweet friend and see it before it closes.
The Classics Theatre Project presents Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing through June 27, 2021 on the lawn in front of the Stone Cottage at Addison Conference and Theatre Center. Grab your tickets at www.theclassicstheatreproject.com or at the door.