Off Broadway Reviews
James Bond music plays loudly in the background as the audience enters the theater.
Benedick and Claudio arrive in black Hugo Boss suits with color coordinated gray ties and bowler hats. Their pantomime dance routine suggests that they've just concluded a serious escapade involving guns and money.
In slinks Beatrice, Hero and Margaret wearing shimmering black cat-suits, doing an aerobic line dance, ready to greet or spar with their swaggering men as circumstances require. Thus begins Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing in a condensed, quirky, yet ultimately fun production performed by the Aquila Theatre Company.
If you have preconceived notions about how Much Ado should be staged it's best to leave them at the door. "The Avengers," "James Bond" and "The Saint" are the inspiration for this production's costumes, music, movement and lighting. The effect gives a slightly sinister and obviously sexual overtone to Shakespeare's often performed comedy best known for the bantering war of words between its chief protagonists: Beatrice (Lisa Carter) and Benedick (Anthony Cochrane). Forget the soft Tuscan scenery of Kenneth Branaugh's film, or the more traditionally staged versions presented in New York by the Royal Shakespeare and Public Shakespeare Companies. In fact, forget any scenery at all, for this production is of the present, and black, gray and silver it must be. Thankfully, the director, realizing that when there are no visual clues on stage (house, garden, church, etc.) confusion might reign, has outlined the plot scene by scene in the program. If you are not familiar with the play this is definitely advisable reading.
The Aquila Theatre Company is an ensemble of English and American performers committed to bringing the classics to towns and cities throughout America. Lisa Carter, the company's marvelous leading lady, once again exceeds herself with a wonderful portrayal of the derisive Beatrice who longs for love and particularly Benedick. Anthony Cochrane, the company's leading man (also composer and associate ensemble director), plays Benedick. This Benedick is more of an everyman entangled in the confusion of dealing with a strong, proud woman and her exceedingly biting tongue. No swashbuckling hero a la Keven Kline or Kenneth Branaugh, this Benedick is more concerned with his fear of marriage and, worse, his beloved's possible rejection than the enjoyment of verbal jousts with Beatrice. Louis Butelli makes a very funny and wicked Don John, as well as a suitable "Ass" of himself, with his infinite use of malapropisms, as the constable Dogberry. New to the company, Richard Willis was a warm and compassionate Don Pedro, with just enough stature to let all know he was indeed a prince. Hopefully we will see more of him in the future.
The lighting by Peter Meineck sets the mood. The music by Anthony Cochrane sets the tone, and the costume designs by Beau Brummel of Soho (famous for the Regis Philbin look) sets the period for this mod version of Much Ado About Nothing. Director Robert Richmond trimmed the play's running time to approximately 2 hours with the help of pantomime and liberal cuts in the text. And, although at times this production feels more like great scenes from Much Ado rather than the play in its entirety, there's no doubt the Aquila met its ultimate goal of making classic theater into a "very good evening's entertainment."
If you are prepared to forget every prior production you've ever seen of Much Ado About Nothing try the Aquila's version. It's fun to watch, there's a little dancing and singing, many of Shakespeare's wonderful words are beautifully spoken by classically trained actors and you get to see this marvelous play set with a "Avengers meets early James Bond" motif. What more could a theatergoer want?
Pictured: Lisa Carter as Beatrice, Anthony Cochrane as Benedick, and Cameron Blair as Margaret. Photo by Ken Howard.
The Aquila Theatre Company