Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Much Ado About Nothing
Also see Mark's review of The Motherfucker with the Hat
Be warned. If you're a Shakespeare traditionalist, you might not appreciate it when the entire cast does the macarena or when Dogberry exclaims "Hijo de la chingada!" But if you're up for a novel, clever, hilarious take on Shakespeare, this show is for you.
Victoria J. Liberatori, the director, knows how to take a 400-year-old play and make it absolutely contemporary. She sets it not in Messina, but in present-day Placitas, an old Hispanic community just north of Albuquerque that is now mostly populated by the well-to-do. It makes sense that a prince and a count would show up there for a visit. This setting allows some idiomatic New Mexicanisms to be thrown in, but all the rest of the dialogue is directly from Shakespeare, and somehow it doesn't sound stilted at all. I've never had as easy a time understanding every word of Shakespeare as I did in this show.
Who knew there were so many double entendres in the script? Ms. Liberatori seems to have found them all, and surprisingly they are still hilarious today. Of course, humor depends a lot on delivery, and this cast knows how to put it over. We're lucky to have two exceptional physical and verbal comedians as Beatrice and Benedick. Colin A. Borden seems to have a body made out of Silly Putty and a face to match. He's hysterical, especially in the scene where he's eavesdropping on his compadres' conversation about how much Beatrice loves him. And Lisa Fenstermacher matches him in the counterpoint scene, when her friends are talking about how much Benedick loves her. The comedy of the play mostly depends on these two, and they really pull it off.
The other funniest parts of this show are the Dogberry scenes. I've seen other productions where Dogberry and his compatriots dragged the show down, but here I couldn't stop laughing. Jaime Pardo's Dogberry, in a brilliant move, carries a stuffed Chihuahua in the crook of his elbow, and Jaime does the barking for him and even eats his dog treat. Jesus Banuelos and Ryan Martinez, as his assistants, are likewise terrifically enjoyable, with their classic New Mexico accents and mannerisms. Even now, I'm laughing as I'm writing this.
One very smart innovation in the show is changing Leonato, Hero's father, to Leonata, her mother. This makes some of the exchanges, written to be between men, less one-sided; it makes the emotional scenes more realistically emotional; and it provides a happy ending for Don Pedro, whose proposal of marriage was turned down by Beatrice. After seeing Angela Littleton's excellent (as always) performance as Leonata, I wonder why the role isn't always cast with a woman. It just seems right.
Everyone else in the cast does a fine job, though some demonstrate more acting experience than others. Tim Crofton is a natural for Shakespeare, being an Englishman by birth; I like his plummy articulation as Don Pedro. Maymie Mitchell (Hero), Fabianna Borghese (Margaret), and Michelle Varela (Ursula) all are very at home on the stage, young though they appear to be. J. Ryan Montenery somewhat underplays the role of Don John, but at least he doesn't give us a cliché villain. Paul Dore (Claudio), Tito Dameron (Borachio), and Kevin W. Lawrence (Conrade) don't seem to have spent a lot of time on stage yet, but they have a lot of potential.
The production crew has put together a lovely set in the Aux Dog's small space. Credit for set design and decoration goes to Susan Roden, VJ Liberatori, Kyle King, and Elizabeth Dwyer. Whoever came up with the two big swimming pool inflatables (you have to see the show to find out how they could fit into a Shakespeare play) deserves a hand; probably it was Elizabeth Dwyer and Hannah Kamphuis, who did the props. Very good lighting by Emma Boiselle and music by Casey Mraz, likewise the costumes by Kir Kipness and Tim Crofton.
This Much Ado surprised me. I always considered this play inferior to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It, but this production kicks it up into their league. It's the first show in Aux Dog's new "Shakespeare 505" series (505 is the area code for most of New Mexico). I don't know if that means that all future productions will be set in New Mexico, but if they're anywhere near as enjoyable as this one, I can't wait.
Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare, directed by Victoria J. Liberatori, is being presented through April 30, 2017, at the Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill on Monte Vista just north of Central in Albuquerque. Friday and Saturday at 8:00, Sunday at 2:00. Running time about two and a half hours, including one intermission. Tickets are $10 to $15. Info at www.auxdogtheatre.org.