Much Ado about Nothing, Folger Theatre

As anyone who talks about Shakespeare with me will tell you, I have a horror of 'concept Shakespeare.' My roots are in studying early modern theatricality, so even assigning a specific time and place to a Shakespeare production will generally get my hackles up. Yes, I know that's how most people feel the need to do Shakespeare these days and No, I don't plan on changing my opinion any time soon. It takes a particularly rockin' production to overcome my bias against this manner of production.

Luckily, Timothy Douglas's production of Much Ado about Nothing has pulled it off with panache.

Douglas has placed his play in our own, contemporary DC, building upon the sense of familiarity that makes Much Ado one of Shakespeare's most accessible comedies (it helps that scads of modern romantic comedies have stolen half the plot line). Of course, this isn't necessarily a DC we're all quite so familiar with- the town of Messina has been transformed to Messinah's, a storefront amid DC's Caribbean community in the days leading up to the annual DC Caribbean Carnival.

And it works.

The language dances along from the company of actors and the set design of Tony Cisek has crammed a multitude of levels and hiding places and places for LIFE to take place onto the Folger stage. Craig Wallace, who shares a co-credit on sound design with Matthew M. Nielson, provides an in-character DJ for the play, filling the theatre with a fitting soundtrack for these particular incarnations of Shakespeare's characters. (Note- this production had EASILY the best 'Sigh no more, ladies' I've ever seen, and EASILY the most bizarre 'Pardon, goddess of the night')

And what of these characters? Howard W. Overshown is a strong, masculine, and fearless Benedick who crackles in his soliloquies- the audience hangs on every word and he's well aware that he's got us in the palm of his hand (exactly as Benedick should). Rachel Leslie's Beatrice is a strong presence, but to my mind, never quite reached the spark that Overshown effortlessly brought to the stage. Alex Perez and Matt MacNelly were clear favorites of the audience throughout the night; the elderly gentleman seated next to me on Wednesday evening often beamed in delight, muttering 'Adorable! Wonderful!' at their antics. Special note should be given to Roxi Victorian's Hero- in past productions, I've never felt I had a handle on her character, and in particular, could never conceive how she could settle for her 'happy ending.' Victorian brought a real sense of a journey to her Hero, from her initial sweet naïveté to a woman irrevocably changed and strengthened by her experiences at the end of the play. It was very well done.

Actually, let me give kudos to the entire cast and director, who truly conveyed the sense of a long-standing community on stage. Watching their non-verbal interactions was a treat- I could see at a glance which conversations had already been had a million times and which were on new ground. It showed a level of care and understanding of the play and of the characters that added a wonderful level of depth to the entire play.

Timothy Douglas's Much Ado about Nothing is a joy, and like a good play can, will send you out into the night eager to pounce on your theatre companion and talk about what you've just seen. GO- you're guaranteed a laugh and an intelligently rendered production of a gem of a play.


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