The Castaways Repertory Theatre opened their production of Much Ado About Nothing, one of Shakespeare’s better-known romantic comedies, this past weekend. The story is packed with chicanery. There are lovers and haters, more lies than truths, and several incredibly persuadable characters.
Hannah Butler directed the piece, setting the story in the more recent and relatable 1940s, stating in the program that she felt the ’40s best suited the time period and characters of the play. With the theme of the end of wartime and strong women, the logic works.
The play begins with soldiers returning from war. Don Pedro (Ed Johnson), also referred to as the Prince, Claudio (Edgar Zayas), and Benedick (Ryan Lahey) are greeted at the home of their friend, Leonato (Walter Stewart).
Claudio immediately falls in love with Leonato’s daughter Hero (Hannah Brown). Meanwhile, Benedick resumes an ongoing battle of wits and words with Beatrice (Lindsey Capuno), Leonato’s niece.
Lahey and Capuno have a good time with their verbal sparring, and their dialogue carries most of the pacing for the show. Shakespeare can be a mouthful and the rhythm is specific and necessary to understanding the text, but Lahey and Capuno take on the mantle with confidence.
With the help of the Prince, Claudio secures Leonato’s blessing and Hero’s hand, and the wedding is set in a week’s time. Now, to help pass the time and further their amusement, the Prince, Claudio, and Hero devise a plan to trick Beatrice and Benedick into falling in love with one another.
Their plan is obvious, with loud exaggerated conversations intended to be overheard, but still successful, as Beatrice and Benedick are duped into falling head over heels with each other. The two, it seems, were all too eager to fall.
Johnson’s Prince is charming, and his mirth is quite genuine. But while the friends are full of joy, the Prince’s illegitimate brother, Don John (Liam Allee), has also returned with the group and his mean-spirited demeanor casts a shadow on the reunion. Don John is resentful and swears to his associate, Borachio (Bryan Meyer), that he will find any means to cross his brother and ruin his happiness.
So, while one brother plots to foster love, the other brother connives to ruin love. Don John and Borachio scheme to trick Margaret (Hayley Katarina), Borachio’s lover and Hero’s serving woman, to have a tryst with Borachio at Hero’s window. Then Don John, claiming that Margaret is Hero, will urge Don Pedro and Claudio to witness the event, thus convincing Claudio that Hero has been unfaithful.
The deception works and the heartbroken Claudio accuses Hero of lechery and abandons her at the altar.
Fortunately, for the humiliated Hero, the constable, Dogberry (Garrett Willis), and his deputy, Verges (Eric Thurston) have assembled a Watch to ensure the safety and security of the area during the festivities. Borachio is overheard boasting about the deceit and is arrested.
Willis does a great job portraying Dogberry’s tremendous pride and honor that is sadly trapped in a bumbling mind. He is a character who consistently uses words and phrases in hilariously incorrect ways, but all the while maintains the commitment and confidence in himself that is hard to negate. Thurston serves as a great compliment to the humor, showing an unflinching, albeit blind, devotion to Dogberry’s leadership.
The scenes with Dogberry serve as a great comic relief to the turn of anger and sadness the play takes, with Hero’s fall from grace and the canceled wedding. But, as with all of Shakespeare’s comedies, people must be married and the characters work to untangle the confused mess of treachery they have all had a hand in weaving.
The whole plot of Much Ado About Nothing is one deception upon another. Even the resolution of the whole affair–which I will not give away–is achieved through deception. But don’t look to this play to teach any morals. The show is 100% for fun and entertainment and, therefore, easy to enjoy.
Congratulations to the Castaways Repertory Theatre’s cast and crew for their successful opening!
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one fifteen-minute intermission.
Much Ado About Nothing plays through February 3, 2019, at The Castaways Repertory Theatre performing at Dr. A.J. Ferlazzo Building – 15941 Donald Curtis Drive, in Woodbridge, VA. For tickets, call (703) 232-1710 or purchase them online.