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Much Ado About Nothing

a Play
CATEGORY : COMEDY
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : Georgia Shakespeare [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Conant Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 726

SHOWING : June 11, 2003 - August 10, 2003

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Directed by Kenny Leon
In rotating repertory June 11 - August 10

One of Shakesepare's most buoyant romantic comedies! With sharp tongues and sharper wits, Beatrice and Benedick have both vowed never to wed--especially each other. See how they fare in Shakespeare's spirited battle of the sexes.


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

Tapping into Shakespeare?
by troyhill
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
1.0
I won't spend too much time on the mish-mosh of set design (pastels? ooooh...a versatile box? the Lion King tomb?) or the hodge-podge of costume design (tie-dye? white jackets vs. black jackets?). Two other reviewers have quite capably described my feelings on those two areas. Carolyn Cook is wonderful. She is very charming and seems at ease with the language. Chris Kayser does his thing as always. The playing of a villain devoid of subtlety and with absolutely no redeeming qualities never ceases to disappoint me. John Ammerman is the absolute savior of the show. Were it not for the promise of Dogberry's return, savoring vowels and spinning consonants, I probably would not have stayed for the second act.

Sure, there are blocking nightmares (Benedick's eavesdropping scene is funny at first and problematic at end), choreography that threatens to devolve into the Electric Slide at any moment, and "scene changes" that always seem to involve pushing a box around the stage. Even with all that, the one thing that grated its fingernails down the chalkboard of my spine throughout the entire show was the footplay. Ah...the oft unhappy marriage of German riding boot with wooden floor. The weight shifting, the clap of boot on floor with every line, the tapping of toes, the lifting of foot and stomping with every joke plagued the boys in white. As I am not versed in morse code and therefore missed the underlying significance of the noise, the incessant tapping nearly drove me insane. Walk softly and carry a big lexicon. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Up to their old tricks
by michelle
Monday, June 23, 2003
2.0
It's unfortunate, but every time I prepare to see a production at the Georgia Shakespeare Festival, I find that I'm willing myself to be open and generous, while fighting a nagging premonition that I'm in for a familiar evening of strong company of actors at the mercy of a conceptualized snooze.

I don't know when these guys are going to get it. I'm no purist, but the idea that somehow Shakespeare is inaccessable without some sort of modern spin, has left me exhausted and utterly frustrated. The most successful productions at the Festival, of course in my opinion, have been the most simple (Sabin Epstein's 12th Night, Hamlet, Garner's Midsummer Night's Dream, Ocel's Measure for Measure) with an emphasis on the language and storytelling, a grounding in the text itself, without some arbitrary overlay to, again, make it interesting for a contemporary audience. Note to Mr. Garner: it IS interesting and we WILL come WITHOUT the concepts! You have a strong company with a few exceptional actors who are utterly capable of telling the story. Alas, If the directors would only let them.

That said, this production largely works in spite of it's resetting, largely due to the cast. We've seen Chris Kayser do this same schtick for years, and still, it's engaging (when is someone going to push him to do something REALLY daring?) Carolyn Cook's smarts and abilty to simplify with the language is terrific. Brad Sherrill is gratefully understated and grounded. Joe Knezivech is typically wooden (when is this guy going to lighten up!!??) and Chris Enweiller turns in exactly the performance you'd expect from him (a Don John in all black, what a concept) - no surprises here.

A footnote to Mr. Garner: you're company seems to have outgrown your directors and, as a result, the emphasis of your productions is confused at best. It looks like actors fight to survive up there. Back to basics perhaps? [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Concept Sabotage
by Dedalus
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
3.0
It’s a tricky business resetting Shakespeare in non-traditional settings. When it is done right, the concept illuminates the text in a manner not previously seen and provides a context for bridging the gap between Shakespeare’s language and our own. The GSF New Orleans “Julius Caesar” from a couple years ago is a good example of that. I have seen effective productions of “Much Ado About Nothing” set in 1950’s Cuba, in early 20th century America, and, I thought Branagh’s film with its Italian-Leather-and-Lace worked.

What never works is a non-specific time/place setting, or a hodgepodge of different times and places. Usually, the rationale is to show the “timelessness” of the work, but the effect is usually the opposite – a distracting remove that puts the play in no identifiable time and place, and thus outside our experience. Unless this Brechtian distancing is the intent, it always falls flat. (I suppose that Aristotelian paradigm of unity still infects my tastes.)

Worse still is a concept that sabotages the text because of its own contextual baggage. An example of this would be to set “Merchant of Venice” in Nazi-era Europe (which, I understand, has been attempted with unpleasant results).

To be honest, I am not sure which of these two conceptual misconceptions hurt what was an otherwise wonderful production of “Much Ado” at the Georgia Shakespeare Festival. For much of the play, I was distracted by what I originally took as a potpourri of time and place cues --> some costumes were vaguely Middle Eastern, others contemporary, the uniforms were vaguely Russian, the architecture was stylistic (almost futuristic), and the music suggested to time and place at all. But, when the mourning scene came, and Hero’s memorial bore an alarming resemblance to the “Lion King” logo, it struck me that all these disparate elements could suggest a Colonial African setting (although a few too many modern allusions distract from this).

If this was truly the intent (and my knowledge of the cultures suggested is too limited to know for sure), it sabotages the very heart of the play. What should be a universal comedy of love and friendship and betrayal and good spirits takes on an ugly aura of colonialism and subjugation. It doesn’t help that, in this wonderfully diverse cast, all the characters of “authority” are played by Caucasian Actors. It has the affect of turning something joyful into something somewhat ugly.

To be fair, this may not have been the intention – the concept may have been a hodgepodge to suggest universality. But, if this were the case, there were too many African motifs, too many ways my misinterpretation could have been made possible. Also to be fair, the play looked great. There’s something about ankle-length white coats on soldiers that is very compelling. And the set worked wonderfully also. But this brings back the point I made earlier – non-specific settings do not suggest universality as much as they suggest (possibly) non-intended connotations that could have been scuttled with more specificity.

All this being said, the cast was great! Even though I saw the first preview, the actors had their characters fully in hand, just missing that special spark that comes only with opening night. Chris Kayser was born to play Benedick. In his performances, he often exhibits a cocky and sarcastic edge that fits Benedick’s caustic worldview to a “T.” This makes his “comeuppance by love” all the more compelling. Carolyn Cook’s Beatrice is his perfect match. Her warmth and energy lights the stage, and her anger at Claudio with its passion for revenge are tangible in their toughness.

The supporting cast were every bit their equal. I especially enjoyed Brad Sherrill’s Dohn Pedro, John Ammerman’s Dogberry, and Tracey Copeland’s Hero. Chris Ensweiler’s Don John was also effective – but did he have to be dressed entirely in black? That was a little bit over-obvious.

Everyone was so much fun to watch, it made it difficult to be distracted by the distracting concept. So, in spite of my misgivings, this production proves beyond a doubt, that, if the cast is right, a bad concept does not have to be fatal.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy @ aol.com)
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