It’s been a good week in the critical acclaim department. Not only did our remount of Pigeon Creek’s Much Ado earn slot #16 in Shakespeareances “Top 25” list, but Eric also posted a wonderful review of the show. You can read the full thing on his website, but here are some of my favorite observations (emphasis mine).

Director Alisha Huber embraces many textual advantages the space offers her. In his gulling scene, Benedick (Brad Sytsma) hides among the groundlings (though there’s only a few people down there—the galleries are the preferred seating for this NPR audience). Borachio (Josh Fremer) comes through one of the entrance’s curtains but stops to listen to Don Pedro and Claudio, moseying toward another exit, formulate the wooing-Hero-by-proxy-at-the-masque plan. At that masque, Claudio leads the dancers and then the audience into singing along to “Hey nonny nonny.” As the rest of the party moves off singing with the audience, Claudio remains alone on stage, except for Don John (Kat Hermes) and Borachio, who proceed to bate Claudio into jealousy. Villainy seamlessly emerges out of this moment of gaiety, a thematic juxtaposition that becomes a hallmark of this production as the play’s comic and dramatic elements feed into each other in a tight weave.

Much Ado About Nothing, 2018

The thing is, the cast generally, but especially these two actors [Brad Sytsma and Kate Bode], play key nuances in their lines. When Hero (Ashley Normand) and Ursula (Sarah Stark) are laying their trap for the eavesdropping Beatrice, Bode’s face takes on a disdainful aspect as Hero talks of Claudio (this is before he jilts her at the altar). Then her expression turns jealous as Ursula praises Benedick (this is before she’s been gulled into loving him). Back when Don Pedro first broaches the gulling plot, Normand’s Hero agrees to play along, telling the prince, “I will do any modest office, my lord, to help my cousin to a good husband,” the emphasis questioning whether Benedick fits that job description. “And Benedick is not the unhopefullest husband that I know,” Don Pedro says, responding directly to Hero’s emphasis.

Much Ado About Nothing, 2018

Huber also employs subtle blocking that further fleshes out the characters’ personalities. As the aborted wedding begins, Don John stands next to his brother, Don Pedro, displacing Benedick from his accustomed place in the prince’s party. This indicates how much Don Pedro and Claudio have bought into Don John’s scheme, as the two brothers seem more brotherly than ever. As events unfold after Claudio accuses Hero of being a whore, Hermes’ Don John positions himself to block Beatrice, and her seething demeanor seems ready to erupt into all-out attack mode. Interesting that they recognize Beatrice, not Leonato or Hero’s Uncle Antonio or even Hero herself, as the force they might need to neutralize. Leonato (Scott Lange), in fact, tries to physically attack his daughter; this might seem extreme except that Normand portrays Hero, responding to Claudio’s accusation, exhibiting the same fiery spirit as her father, without the physical violence (but her words have a sharp edge as she lets them fly forth).

From the “Top 25” post: Just seeing a play in this re-creation of an Elizabethan theater in the middle of a wilderness arts camp would merit the term indelible, but I’d love to watch this Alisha Huber–helmed production by the touring Pigeon Creek Shakespeare company again in any venue. Anchored by Kathleen Bode as Beatrice and Brad Sytsma as Benedick, this Much Ado mined the play’s psychological tapestry to deliver authentic character-driven comedy and heartfelt drama. Meanwhile, Scott Wright, playing within the scope of his lines, was as good a Dogberry as I’ve ever seen. 

Wishing you could see a play at the Rose? Good news! We’re remounting my 2018 Antony and Cleopatra there, August 24, 2019.

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