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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Much Ado About Nothing

Also see Susan's review of Hairspray

Much Ado About Nothing
Kathryn Meisle and Derek Smith
Shakespeare in Cuba? Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company took a gamble that paid off by setting its sunny, thoroughly entertaining production of Much Ado About Nothing on a Cuban sugar plantation in the 1930s.

The program list several similarities between Cuba and the play's original setting of Sicily: both are tropical islands with histories of struggle between the wealthy and the peasant class, traditions of macho men and conciliatory women, and strong underpinnings of Catholicism, although mixed with West African Yoruba observance in Cuba's case. In any case, director Ethan McSweeny has created a beautiful spectacle integrating music (composed by Steven Cahill) and choreography (by Marcos Santana) with the work of a fine cast anchored by Kathryn Meisle and Derek Smith as Beatrice and Benedick.

The relationship between Beatrice and Benedick is unique in William Shakespeare's canon: a mature man and woman whose interaction begins with prickly wisecracks (making them the inspiration for too many contemporary romantic comedies) and resolves with true understanding. Smith and Meisle are a match of equals as they portray people who have been knocked around by life and have to fight through their emotional scar tissue to make a connection.

McSweeny also demonstrates his skill with the play's physical humor, specifically in the scenes where other characters deliberately mislead Beatrice and Benedick about their feelings for each other. Smith spends part of a scene with his hand trapped under a rocking chair, while Meisle attempts to avoid detection by sinking into a fountain.

Kate Hurster and Ryan Garbayo are sweet as the young lovers Hero and Claudio, who contrast with Beatrice and Benedick in their openheartedness and willingness to fall in love at first sight. However, this lack of guile also leaves Claudio open to the plotting of bitter Don John (understated Matthew Saldivar).

The scenes involving the constable Dogberry (Ted van Griethuysen) and his ragtag band of watchmen are always funny, but this production adds to the humor by presenting Dogberry in an ill-fitting uniform with a cape made out of a Cuban flag, his assistant Verges (Floyd King) as a doddering old man who uses an elaborate ear trumpet, and their squad as rough men armed with farm implements.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Much Ado About Nothing November 25th - January 7th, 2012
By William Shakespeare
The Soldiers:
Don Pedro: David Emerson Toney
Don John: Matthew Saldivar
Benedick: Derek Smith
Claudio: Ryan Garbayo
Balthasar: Matthew McGee
Conrade: Ashley Smith
Borachio: Mark Hairston
The Household of Leonato:
Leonato: Adrian Sparks
Antonio: Bev Appleton
Hero: Kate Hurster
Beatrice: Kathryn Meisle
Margaret: Rachel Spencer Hewitt
Ursula: Colleen Delany
Townspeople of Messina:
Friar Francis: Lawrence Redmond
Dogberry: Ted van Griethuysen
Verges: Floyd King
Juan Huevos: Phil Hosford
Josť Frijoles: Carlos J. Gonzalez
Villagers, Servants, Soldiers, etc.: Aayush Chandan, James Graham, Michael Gregory, Aaryn Kopp, Janel Miley, Jacob Perkins, Andrew Wassenich
Directed by Ethan McSweeny
Harman Center for the Arts, Sidney Harman Hall
610 F St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or www.shakespearetheatre.org.


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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