by William Shakespeare
Directed by Emma Rosa Went
Opera House Arts
Mariners Memorial Park, Deer Isle, ME
June 29 – July 17, 2022
With Paul Bernardo (Leonato, Watch), Hannah Daly (Margaret, Verges), Sam C. Jones (Borachio, Guitar), Ram Kanneganti (Benedick), Ty Lane (Claudio, Watch), Erin Noll (Hero, Dogberry), Keith Michael Pinault (Don Pedro, Watch), Joseph Quintana (Conrade, Friar), Peter Richards (Don John, Sexton), Esther Williamson (Beatrice)
Production Design: Yi_hsuan (Ant) Ma; Costume Design: Jennifer Paar; Composer: Ray Duncan; Choreography: Molly Gawler; Music Director: Sam C. Jones; Keith Michael Pinault: Fight Director; Esther Williamson: Dance Captain
Done in the open air of Deer Isle with a simple but cleverly designed set, this exquisite rendering of the story of two verbal sparring partners who become lovers delivers immense rewards.
Of course, it’s mostly about Benedick (Ram Kanneganti) and Beatrice (Esther Williamson) with their relentless sparring and what turns into their love for one another. But it’s also about Hero (Erin Noll) and Claudio (Ty Lane) and what seems like a too-simple love story at the outset which the great Bard manages to rectify with sufficient complication before too long. Beatrice and Benedick give an easy intro to love – their story is the foundation of all great romantic comedies – the bitter opposition that marks deep attraction and eventual passion. The story of Hero and Claudio is harder to pursue, but here it’s done with mirrors – the dastardly oppositional brother of Hero’s father – Don John (Peter Richards) – sets up the subversive plot meant to defame Hero and call Claudio’s devotion into question. But, it’s a comedy, so it all works out in the end, happily, but with a good deal of emotion.
Much Ado About Nothing calls forth, in a comedic way, some of Shakespeare’s favorite themes. The motif of the faked death, comedic and instructive here, serves up tragedy in Romeo and Juliet, written several years before. The evil and manipulative brother, core to the complication here, shows up multiple times in later works: devastatingly in Hamlet, written shortly after Much Ado, and as the motivating complication in The Tempest written a decade later.
This production is just great. It’s done out of doors in Mariners Memorial Park on Maine’s exquisite Deer Isle, and, with the setting sun, what could be bad about watching these young, capable, exquisitely motivated actors, obviously directed with capacity and vision, produce one of the planet’s great works as the glorious sun sets over Penobscot Bay?
The direction and staging are impeccable. All of the actors come forth – they clearly love what they are doing in the production – and the results are spectacular. In particular, of course, Kanneganti’s Benedick and and Williamson’s Beatrice stand out because of their wit and force, and the two principals do it brilliantly, conveying a sense of palpable oppositional attraction. But the rest of the cast is also exquisite. As Hero, Erin Noll does not have a whole lot to do, but, in this staging, she takes over as Dogberry, the police inspector, and she’s hysterically funny, wearing an outlandish Snidley Whiplash moustache and holding forth behind it with wonderful faux esteem and grandeur.
As Claudio, the noble but somewhat mindless love interest to Hero, Ty Lane is perfectly duped and capable, remorseful in a big way, and able to carry the secondary romantic lead with aplomb.
The supporting cast is really wonderful as well, with Peter Richards as the horrible though stylish Don John and the less stylish but more loveable Sexton. As Leonato, Paul Bernardo holds his own with a warm and dignified bearing, and Hannah Daly, as Margaret, offers a saucily conspiratorial addition. Playing left hand guitar is Sam C. Jones who does a terrific job, and serves as music director as well; Joseph Quintana supplements handily with the violin.
All of them shine, doubling up in their secondary roles as the Shakespearean clowns served up to enact the complication, devised by the evilly manipulative Don John (Peter Richards), between Hero and Claudio.
The music in this production is amazingly good. The singing – overseen by music director Sam C. Jones – is beautifully done, with exquisite harmonies and inventive versions of the famous Much Ado Nonny, Nonny lyrics. And the choreography by the multi-talented Molly Gawler, though not extensive, is also worthy of significant note – it is remarkably inventive and entertaining.
It’s not an easy thing to produce Shakespeare in a way that its verbal complexities are digestible and do not feel like mechanical oratory – much less outside, where projection can be an issue. This production manages to do it all in the open air: the drama made primary with the words to embellish it as they should, with one having the feeling of being invited in to discover their inventiveness through the action, rather than feeling oppressed by their density.
It is such a total pleasure to see a simple, eloquent, beautifully produced rendition of this great work outside, with simple but inventive sets (by Yi_Hsuan Ma), and with a cast that is clearly motivated and given inspiration by the great direction of Emma Rosa Went. This is Shakespeare as The Bard would have loved to see it – lively, fun, beautifully executed, with attention to its wit and articulation but with a motivating spirit that brings out the deepest rhythms of its heart.
– BADMan (aka Charles Munitz)