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Much Ado About Something

by Marla Bronstein

This is only the second time I have attended a play performed as part of the Skagit River Shakespeare Festival, a program of Shakespeare Northwest. The 2014 season features “Much Ado About Nothing,” directed by Diana Farnsworth and “Macbeth,” directed by Trey Hatch. Full disclaimer, “Much Ado About Nothing” is one of the few Shakespeare plays I had not ever seen or read or studied. From my previous experience with the Bard, I knew I would need to diagram the characters and relationships so that when I arrived at the performance grounds I could just pay attention to the story. It helped me enjoy the play thoroughly.

Everything that I had read about the story indicated to me that it was about about Hero and Claudio, sweetly played by Lydia Randall and Danny Herter. And that it was about Hero’s mother Leonata, a cross-gendered casting strongly played by Beth Greatorex) and Claudio’s friend Don Pedro, deftly played by Bjorn A. Whitney who are the catalyst for their meeting and, inevitable falling-in-love and getting-engaged-to-be-married. It’s also about Hero’s cousin Beatrice and Claudio’s friend Benedick, who are well-played, well-matched and well-married in real life Akilah Williams and Christopher C. Cariker. Benedick and Beatrice banter and word spar when they are in each other’s presence, which tells Hero and Claudio that Benedick and Beatrice are perfect for each other.

Don Pedro’s evil brother, Don John, played by Trey Hatch, is one of those people who is annoyed by the happiness of others. He’s what my mother would have called an Alter kocker. He decides to use Borachio, one of his two henchmen to create the ruse of Hero’s infidelity to Claudio on the eve of the wedding. The unfaithful act is reported to Claudio and when he confronts Hero at the alter, she drops dead in shame.

Well, she’s not really dead, but she is to Hero. And to her mother. This is the moment the feminist in me got annoyed.

In fairness, I decided to let Mr. Shakespeare finish telling his story, to give him a chance to redeem himself.

Hero being dumped at the alter resulted in Beatrice and Benedick finally declaring their love for each other. Benedick loves Beatrice hook line and sinker, like the John Legend Song “All of Me.” Benedick is a keeper. Beatrice tells him to avenge her cousin, and off he goes.

Enter the constable, Dogberry, a very funny and acerbic portrayal by Michael Wallace. Because Borachio is a pompous ass, he has bragged about his successful ploy within earshot of the constable’s associates, and is promptly arrested.

Happy ending, Borachio brings the truth to light, everyone learns that Hero is really innocent, and Claudio, who now declares his love for his “dead” Hero, grieves for her. (IMHO Too little too late buddy.) Leonata tricks Claudio into marrying “Beatrice” who is really Hero hidden under a veil. If I were Hero, I would have walked away when I had the chance.

Directed with a simple set of platforms and a table and chairs, Farnsworth used every level and bit of space, and even had actors working on some weeding of the grounds.

Christopher C. Caricker as Benedick is natural and funny and at times a cross between Jerry Lewis and Jim Carey. He can also throw a grape in the air while walking and catch it in his mouth. He delivers a performance that is not to be missed.

I’ve already mentioned Michael Wallace, who appeared to be having the time of his life. David Cox is a fixture around these parts, and one of the steadiest actors around.

I can’t say enough about Carolyn Travis and Trey Hatch, who are the pillars of this theatre company.

This supporting cast of strong actors also includes James Brown, John Roberson, Cassandra Leon, Elizabeth Lundquist, and Claire Hardt Andrews who will make the evening fly.

I would be remiss if I neglected to make comment on the costuming. Director Farnsworth set the time period in the roaring 20s, and even a silent music party scene was a stunning sight to see. I’m a stickler for shoes and dresses, and the costuming team sold the authenticity of every last one of them.

Ok, so I’m not a fan of the story itself. Yeah, there are bugs and an occasional plane (there were six that I counted during the performance.) What’s important here is that you will enjoy stellar performances in one of the most beautiful acting spaces around.

The Rexville-Blackrock Amphitheatre is an old rock quarry and a stunning natural theater space. Look for Shakespeare Northwest at www.shakesnw.org. Picnics, lawn chairs and blankets are welcome but, sorry, no dogs.

Much Ado at the Rexville-Blackrock Amphitheatre
19299 Rexville Grange Road, Mt Vernon, WA
Regular tickets $12/$10 with student ID
July 12,18,24, 31 August 2,8,14,16 7:00pm
13 Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival – Much Ado @ 4pm Volunteer Park
July 20, August 10 2:00pm
26 IRON MAN – All three shows plus a commemorative t-shirt! $30
1:00 pm Much Ado,
4:00 pm To Be or Not TV2 (Touring Show)
7:00 pm Macbeth