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Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado in a Caribbean Community

Folger Theatre, Washington, D.C.
Thursday, November 12, 2009 (seats F–5&6, right stalls)
Directed by Timothy Douglas

Linguistically, this production was one of the closest to Shakespeare’s own pronunciations as any we’ve seen. For, while it was set in modern D.C., it centered on a Caribbean family, with a dialect closer to Elizabethan than even modern London’s. So when the character Brother (a variation on the character of Antonio) puns on “noting,” it rings true like never before.

The choice of setting worked in a number of other ways. For one, we see just how modern Beatrice and Benedict were drawn, back before 1600. For another, Hero is allowed to show her strength and true colors when she stands up to her father after the jilting scene.

Other choices the director made did not necessarily enhance the play, or even his aim to tell Much Ado from the female perspective. Borachio as a woman was OK, but getting rid of Conrad and combining the two watches into one Verges—and having Borachio and Verges do the revealing scene as a conversation between them rather than the watch overhearing the two conspirators—was more confusing than necessary conflation. Turning Ursula into a matriarchal force was lost on the audience. Portraying Don Pedro as a police captain, Claudio as a bicycle cop, and Benedict as a beat policeman came off as merely cute (and a bit confusing; what “wars” did they come from?).

But one transmutation did work, surprisingly: dropping Antonio and fusing some of his lines in with that of the singer to create Brother, the deejay for the Caribbean festival. As played by Craig Wallace—who also served as sound designer—Brother served as a streetwise confidante and advisor to Leonato’s family, as the musical spur for good times, and as a threatening force to Don Pedro and Claudio after the jilting. His rendition of “Hey Nonny Nonny” as a rap was one of the evening’s highlights.

Another highlight was Benedict. Howard W. Overshown gave sufficient zest to his Shakespearean lines, but it was his wholly in-character ad-libbed asides—“Don’t encourage her,” he said after the audience laughed at one of Beatrice’s gibes, and “This is crazy,” he confided to the audience before approaching the friar about marriage—that set his Benedict apart.

While some of the cast gave stilted deliveries of Shakespeare’s verse, Doug Brown spoke Leonato in a musical cadence of pure Island poetry. Roxi Victorian imbued his daughter, Hero, with a nice combination of wide-eyed virgin and steely sister. Rachel Leslie gave Beatrice a rush of frenetic energy. Leather-pantsed Joel David Santner played Don John as a comic arch villain, all poses and eyebrows. Alex Perez turned Dogberry into the self-important security guard we would see later in real life as we headed home on the Metro after the play.

And while the combination of Borachio with portions of Conrad may have slighted Shakespeare’s intended plot movement, both the elevation of Borachio into a primary player—it was she who was doing much of the “noting” that caused so much ado—gave a fresh perspective into this hitherto overlooked character, especially in the complex portrayal rendered by Dionne Audain.

Kudos, too, to scenic designer Tony Cisek for his junkyard-supplied street scene setting, a festive-strewn alley of colors, kitsch, and metal stairways.

Eric Minton
November 14, 2009

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