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Review: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

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Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of Much Ado About Nothing is an amusing spectacle. Directed by Sally Boyett and set in the 1950’s, it is a visual and musical treat, with talented acting, singing, dancing, and a colorful set. It is a wonderful way to begin their new season.

Benjamin Russell is charmingly funny as Benedick. He delivers his witty remarks with just the right timing for perfect effect. His justification for loving Beatrice (Helena Farhi), after all his cynical comments against marriage, gets great laughs from its eagerness: “The world must be peopled!” He is also wonderful at physical comedy, hiding behind boxes and shrubbery to overhear conversations; at one point he conceals himself inside a mobile wet bar, for wonderful effect.

The cast of Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Joshua McKerrow Photography.

Helena Farhi plays Beatrice with great humor, although at times it can be cutting. Her remarks to Benedick at the masquerade cause him pain, even though he tries to brush it off. She, too, is talented at physical comedy, tripping down stairs, and trying to hide in awkward places. She plays the serious moments well, too. Her anger at the injustice of Hero’s (Olivia Ercolano) situation is heartfelt, and her reaction to Benedick’s response to her request is heartbreaking. Her chemistry with Russell is powerful to watch, capturing the strange combination of joy, fear, and awkwardness that is their relationship. At one point, while Benedick tries to declare his love for Beatrice, pulling her close, she pulls away. They are indeed the perfect pair.

Olivia Ercolano plays Hero with sweetness and light. Her mischievous streak, though, comes out when she plays with Beatrice about Benedick’s feelings for her, taking full advantage of her cousin hiding behind furniture. Her reaction to Claudio’s (Joshua Williams) anger is also powerful, a shocked confusion at her husband-to-be’s accusations, leading to a near-tragedy.

Joshua Williams plays the romantic Claudio with great emotion, eager to be in love, but terrified of being played for a fool. His strongest performance comes when he thinks Hero has betrayed him. Without saying a word, his body shows his tortured soul. His accusation of Hero is full of fury and drama, hurling her to the ground. He plays the doting lover well too, tender and sweet to his beloved.

Benjamin Russell as Benedick and Helena Farhi as Beatrice. Photo by Joshua McKerrow Photography.

Matthew Castleman plays Borachio as a seductive rogue, silently guiding Margaret (Bethany Mayo) upstairs and into trouble. Towards the end, though, he makes a subtle change, confessing his crimes out of guilt.

Frank Moorman as Leonato and Claire Schoonover as Innogen have quiet but strong presences. Their strongest performances come after Hero’s slander, Moorman’s rage palatable, and Schoonover giving a fierce defense.

Brian Keith MacDonald plays Don Pedro with authority and wit. He handles the comic and dramatic moments equally well, whether teasing Benedick about love or challenging Leonato about his daughter.

Scott Small as Dogberry is verbal comic joy, delivering his malapropisms with perfect timing. Phil Bufithis plays Verges with wild enthusiasm, eager to help but ultimately useless. Jack Russ as George Seacoal is the straight man, crawling on his hands and knees to catch the villains.

Joseph D’Angelo is adorable as Richie. He also has a great sense of comic timing, annoying Benedick with a pogo stick and a book. Ian Charles is multi-talented as Balthasar, singing and playing the ukulele.

Jack Russ as Fred. Photo by Joshua McKerrow Photography.

Jack Golden has done a wonderful job as Scenic Designer, creating a gorgeous looking set that evokes the period. A two-story home, done in the old California style, takes up the back of the stage. Stairs lead to the second floor, dominated by a balcony. Large plants are throughout the house and the stage. At the start of the play, a small table and folding chairs are at the front. Throughout the show, these are variously replaced by lounge chairs, and a movable wet bar.

Sandra Spence, as Costume Designer, further adds to the feel of the times with her effective costumes. There are many outfit changes. Beatrice wears a red and white polka dotted dress at the start, later changing into a red cocktail dress. Margaret has a light pink dress. Leonato wears a light green shirt, khaki pants, and a dark green cravat at the beginning, later wearing a black suit and brown tie. All the other men begin the play in the uniforms of either naval officers (for Benedick, Don Pedro, and Claudio), or enlisted sailors. For the masquerade, Benedick is almost unrecognizable in a wild Carmen Miranda-like outfit, complete with fruit hat and pink sunglasses. Balthasar looks very comfortable in a colorful Hawaiian shirt with a pink lei. Borachio has a leather jacket, a tight shirt, and well-fitting blue jeans. Dogberry, Verges, and George Seacoal wear boy scout uniforms, complete with knee-high yellow socks.

The cast of Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Joshua McKerrow Photography.

Adam Mendelson does a great job as Lighting Designer, making the lights perfectly reflect the mood. When Claudio believes he is betrayed, the lights are low, helping to highlight his dismay. Nancy Krebs has done wonderful work as Vocal and Music Coach, so that Shakespeare’s lines and songs sound natural coming from the actors.

Sally Boyett has done a terrific job as Sound Designer, Director, and Choreographer. The songs played in between scenes are both period and capture the mood. For instance, the wedding scene has “Going to the Chapel of Love.” The actors move around the stage easily and naturally. They use every part of the stage, sometimes in creative and amusing ways. The dance numbers are amazing to watch, the actors leaping off the ground, dancing with each other and in solos. The final image is a joyful triumph of true love. Everything comes together for a delightful evening of laughter and romance. Be sure to catch it!

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, with a 25-minute intermission.

Much Ado About Nothing plays through October 29, 2017 at Annapolis Shakespeare Company – 1804 West Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 415-3513 or purchase them online.

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