Review: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at Aquila Theatre at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts

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‘Much Ado About Nothing’ brings amusement, merriment and mirth

Appearances can be quite deceiving, especially in the realm of love. Deception, misunderstandings and much merriment were on display in Aquila Theatres production of Much Ado About Nothing, one of William Shakespeare’s finest romantic comedies, at George Mason University Center for the Arts’ Concert Hall. As directed, adapted and production designed by Desiree Sanchez, it is a comical tale of romantic misadventures.

One of Shakespeare’s most grown-up romantic comedies, the show centers around Claudio, a count and soldier from Florence, who returns from a war to resume his romance with his fiancé Hero; the two lovers then conspire to make a love match of the combative would-be-couple Benedick and Beatrice—hysterical melodrama ensues.

The three-member cast, Lincoln Hudson, Palmyra Mattner, and Toby Miller made the Bard’s words, and at least 19 characters, leap into liveliness. A few more actors would have filled out the Company better, but Sanchez got the most out of the tiny cast she assembled.

Sanchez chose an unusual directorial approach: this particular production of Much Ado… was part musical (thanks in part to Sound Designer Chase Duhe), with cast members performing along with or singing songs as eclectic as Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is,” to 80s pop star Falco’s “Der Kommissar”, to “An Eye for an Eye” (from the Western film For a Few Dollars More) by composer Ennio Morricone, when Claudio confronts Don Pedro.

The cast of 'Much Ado About Nothing.' Photo by Richard Termine.
The cast of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’: Lincoln Hudson, Palmyra Mattner, and Toby Miller. Photo by Richard Termine.

Added into this polyglot of a stew were the usual ingredients in Much Ado…: easy to offend Beatrice; a Benedick that hates the idea of marriage; cunning Claudio; a malapropism spouting constable, Dogberry. It was all there, including Shakespeare’s complex script, neatly tucked into merely two hours (most productions of this play take at least a half-hour longer).

The lovely Mattner, as Beatrice, got the expected momentous laugh from her “Kill Claudio” line (her request of Benedick as proof of his devotion to her), and sang a wonderful rendition of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” Hudson’s Benedick came off as officious and very much the straight-man in his scenes. Miller was an efficient Leonato. The three actors never had a dull moment on stage, what with spying on each other by hiding in bathroom stalls, dancing crazily or playing songs on a jukebox like “What is Love” (by singer Haddaway), wearing bear and gorilla masks and Ushankas (Russian fur hats), pretending to be statues and appearing in drag.

Sanchez’s production design consisted of a large British “Union Jack” flag as a backdrop (which at one point lifted to reveal the bathroom stalls), a red carpet, a stately desk, a few chairs, military-uniformed mannequins, and minimal props. Costume Designer James McDaniel kept his actors clothed in groovy threads, military uniforms, and bear and gorilla masks.

Aquila Theatre, which is celebrating its 25th year, is one of 40 professional theater companies selected by the National Endowment for the Arts to participate in bringing Shakespeare to middle- and high-school students across the United States. Aquila has been a part of the program for 13 years. The company has performed this show Off Broadway in New York City, in 60 other U.S. cities, and the White House.

Aquila Theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing is a comical, festive play that displays comedic hijinks, surprises, turns, twists and a touch of intrigue—amusing to the highest degree. It’s touring the country (it will be in West Long Branch, New Jersey October 6th). Catch it when you can.

Running Time: Two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

Aquila Theatre performed Much Ado About Nothing for one night only September 30, 2016 at 8pm at The George Mason Center for the Arts’ Concert Hall, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA. For future events at The George Mason Center for the Arts go to their calendar of events. For future Aquila Theatre performances go to their calendar of events.

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