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April 18, 2013

Falling in love with 'Much Ado About Nothing'

Ott sets play about love, hate and jealousy in 1920s with flapper dresses and jazz

By Kristin Mott

More than any other playwright, Shakespeare's works have endured the test of time and continue to impact contemporary audiences.

This is certainly the case with the comedy "Much Ado About Nothing," currently being performed by Great Lakes Theater, which taps into the evergreen emotions of love, hate and jealousy.

Much Ado at Great Lakes TheaterReturning from war, Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, his two nobleman friends Benedick and Claudio, and Don Pedro’s bastard brother Don John are guests at the home of Leonato, the governor of Messina. While being wined and dined the young Claudio is attracted to, woos and wins the hand of the lovely Hero, the governor’s daughter, while confirmed bachelor Benedick reignites his much fraught relationship with Leonato's niece, the man-hating, marriage-repelling, spitfire Beatrice. While Don Pedro creates a clever deception that will hopefully bring Beatrice and Benedick together, the jealous Don John plots to ruin the festivities by maliciously undermining Hero’s reputation and destroying her pending marriage to Claudio.

To bring this wordy, albeit witty, play up to date award-winning director Sharron Ott catapults its world into the 1920s, complete with flapper dresses and jazz music. The set design is minimalistic, with simple stairways adorning either side of the stage and an industrial backdrop that places the attention on the dialogue and performances.
J. Todd Adams is outstanding as Benedick, a typical self-absorbed yet charming bachelor. His ability to spew sarcasm drives the humor in the play, but it is his skills at the dramatic that allow the poignancy of the second act to take hold.

Cassandra Bissell is Adams' equal as Beatrice. For each of Benedick's snappy remarks she has an equally snarky or witty comeback that is just as well delivered. The two actors feed off of each other's energies and the result is nothing short of hilarious. Their humor is offset by the villain Don John who, while bitter and conniving, lacks the sheer ruthlessness found in most other Shakespeare villains. Still, Juan Rivera Lebron handles him brilliantly.

Hero, played by Betsy Mugavero, and Claudio, played by Neil Brookshire, are polar opposites of Benedick and Beatrice. Mugavero is sweet and naive. Brookshire is courageous yet weak when he is around Hero. Their innocent love warms the collective heart of the audience and the wonderful poetry Shakespeare provides them helps make “Much Ado” one of his most popular plays.

Although playing a minor character, Dougfred Miller shines as the asinine Constable Dogberry, the local authority who discovers Don Pedro’s deception and saves the day.
As has been the case for more than 400 years, "Much Ado About Nothing" is a wonderful play, and this production of it will find a place in the hearts of everyone who has fallen in love or been thrust into it against their will.