Folger's Much Ado

Milling about in the Folger Theatre lobby before the show begins, patrons are greeted with reggae music playing over the speakers. Upbeat, fun, funky, light. As we enter the theatre, we are greeted by a Caribbean set, colorful and exciting. Upbeat, fun, funky, light, colorful, exciting – all things that a production of Much Ado About Nothing should be. Unfortunately this production, directed by Timothy Douglas, fails in every respect.

I’m not even sure where to start. With the fact that Beatrice (Rachel Leslie) and Benedick (Howard W. Overshown) have no chemistry? With the fact that not a single member of the cast seems able to land a joke? With the fact the Folger apparently can’t assemble a full cast and Douglas seems to have never heard of double-casting, leading to a confusing conflation of characters that obscures the plot?

Let’s start with the biggest problem, the lack of funny. Someone needs to explain to this cast that Much Ado About Nothing is not a Pinter play, therefore excessive pausing is not only unnecessary, it’s harmful. For an example, when Claudio asks (referring to Hero), “Can the world by such a jewel?” Benedick responds, “… Yea. … … And a case to put it into.” Likewise, Benedick and Beatrice pause during their battles of wit before each response. Wit is fast and furious. Light and delicate. Benedick and Beatrice are smart. Very smart. But if they have to stop to think up their retorts, the way that Leslie and Overshown do, well, they don’t come across as very bright. Overshown and Leslie also mug to the audience too much, as if to say, “Look, I just said something funny!”

There isn’t a lot of fun to be found anywhere else either. Alexis Camins as Claudio, Doug Brown as Leonato, and Jeffrey Scott as Don Pedro (understudy) seem to be having a contest of who can most successfully imitate cardboard. After Hero has been shamed, Antonio (Craig Wallace – sadly stuck in this production as a conflation of the messenger and Antonio and referred to in the playbill as “Brother”) tells Leonato to calm down. But it doesn’t make any sense, because we haven’t seen any real rage from Brown.

I can’t speak to the talent of Dionne Audain because the poor woman is given the role of Borachio, a casting decision that makes no sense whatsoever, and in fact harms the play. Douglas chooses to show the duping of Claudio, so we see Borachio and Margaret together up on a balcony. The audience is then given the impossible task of caring about Claudio, a man so stupid he can’t tell the difference between Margaret and Hero AND can’t tell that the other person with her is in fact A WOMAN.

Douglas seems to think all the characters in this play are stupid. Borachio gets caught because she tells her tale to Verges (Matt MacNelly – actually playing a conflation of Verges, Conrad, Watch 1, Watch 2, Watch 3) because there is no Conrad in this production. And Douglas makes Don John (Joel David Santner) into a fop. He wears tight leather pants, acts like a frat boy, dances, and smiles even though the text clearly says he is melancholy.

I will say that I loved what they did with the ‘Hey Nonny Nonny’ song, and the music and dance at the end of the play. These two moments had all the fun, energy, and whimsy that was lacking from the entire rest of the production.

Two stars
Through November 29


Bev C said…
Purely one opinion and you are entitled to it, but I laughed throughout and found the production most enjoyable.

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