Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

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Lean and Hungry Theater, 24 June 2012
Shortened into a one-hour slot and presented live at the Woods-Brown Amphitheater at the American University, Washington DC, Tonya Beckman's production resituated Shakespeare's play in the immediate post-1945 era, when the Italian-American soldiers, led by Benedick (Joe Brack) returned to their little enclave after four years of fighting. This shift allowed the characters to be played as members of a small community preoccupied with ideas of honour and virtue; hence it was considered a heinous crime for Hero (Tia Shearer) to be accused of infidelity before marriage.
To an extent, Beckman's staging worked quite well, although it did emphasize the rather uneasy mix of comedy and tragedy that underlies Shakespeare's text. The characters enjoyed bantering with one another: Benedick sparred verbally with male and female characters alike, but was rendered speechless when he fell in love with Beatrice (Nora Achrati). His fellow-Italians noticed what has happened, and deliberately plotted to bring the two of them together, even though there was no guarantee that amatory sparks would fly. On the other hand, when Hero was accused of infidelity, and Beatrice, in revenge asked Benedick to "kill Claudio" (Danny Cackley) in Act IV, the jocular atmosphere evaporated. The line was followed by a brief pause, as if Benedick could not quite believe what he had just heard; although he tried to make light of the statement, we understood quite well what Beatrice was serious in what she said.  Although the play ended happily with a song and dance, we couldn't help but forget this brief moment, where it seemed that Much Ado would turn into a revenge tragedy. We were left feeling uneasy: what would happen if such a situation rose once more in the future?
Beckman's staging unfolded at a fast pace, with plenty of doubling and trebling of roles, as if to emphasize the play's comic elements. Sometimes the actors tended to gabble a little, but in general this was an entertaining and very clear-headed revival.