ashland.news
July 14, 2024

Review: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Much Ado About Nothing (2024): Amy Kim Waschke, Al Espinosa. Photo by Jenny Graham, OSF
June 26, 2024

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival refashions Shakespeare’s play through costuming, music, choreography, and art

By Lucie K. Scheuer for Ashland.news

“Much Ado About Nothing,” playing in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is delightfully different in presentation and surprisingly engaging by design. This time the creative team has set the stage for romance, creating an atmosphere where the beguiled and betrayed, the lovesick and lovelorn can woo and work things out under hanging gardens and balconies laden with flower-covered vines. This is a refreshing re-creation of a tried and true, Shakespearean wannabe lover’s tale, replete with musical interludes, medieval minstrels, conspiracies and schemes.

The costumes by Helen Q. Huang, the lighting by Marcella Barbeau, the sound by Paul Prendergast, scenic design by Efren Delgadillo, Jr., and choreography, by Jaclyn Miller, all come together providing a splendid look and feel to a masterfully coordinated show.

As with a number of Shakespeare comedies, there are the usual red herrings, misidentifications and accusations, but they seem to work well because of the wonderful interplay between two of the main characters: Benedick and Beatrice. It is these two wildly independent, superbly drawn characters, upon which the success of the play rests; without them, this story might be a lot less engaging or funny. It might possibly have become a tragedy, and half as interesting, even with the premise of a jealous prank having gone terribly wrong.

As it is, there’s enough irony to go around and keep it interesting. There’s the betrothed couple you think will marry with no impediments to their love and the couple adamantly opposed to marriage valiantly resisting loves mystical energy, only to be engulfed by it.

Beatrice is one of this writer’s favorite Shakespearean women. “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swears he love me,” she proclaims. She is feisty, self-assured, not afraid of her male side, and a great match for the wily, love-denier Benedick. Beatrice and Benedick have become the three-dimensional templates for countless characters over the years, and show up as unforgettable figures in modern lore, from “When Harry Met Sally” constantly sparring couple of Sam Malone and Diane Chambers in “Cheers.”

In this case we are led along by the interplay between Amy Kim Waschke as Beatrice, and John Tufts as Benedick. They have the spark to engage in just enough wordplay, along with cat and mouse flirtations, to make us forget that at times, Shakespeare’s works are riddled with staid plot devices and seemingly ill-fated romances, often remedied in the end. Waschke and Tufts carry this one. With John Tufts, the comic timing is great. “I will bare myself proudly!” he announces as he’s trying to keep his footing while sticking his head out of a bush.

There are five acts to this love gone wrong, gone right string of scenarios, punctuated by some artfully assembled, medieval, beautifully sung Baroque-type tunes. What came to mind during the singing of “Don’t Leave Me Now” was the music of a really unusual band from the ’60s called the Left Banke. It was sort of what one would call a Baroque rock band, with winsome melodies driven by basic, rock and roll drumbeats. Similar melodies were composed for “Ado.” In this instance we have three fine Tudor-like musicians Michal Palzewicz playing cello, Daniel Sherrill, guitar and Reed Bentley on drums. Thanks to them and composers Andre J. Pluess, Amanda Dehnert and Miriam A. Laube, lyricist, the music adds a lovely dimension to this tale, like an extra swirl added to a frothy, aromatic latté.

The story, which starts out as comedic in tone, takes place in Messina, Italy towards the end of the Italian wars in the 16th century. Leonato, the governor of Messina, loftily played by Al Espinosa, lives with his daughter, Hero, and her cousin and dear friend, the Lady Beatrice. Leonato receives word that his friend, the Duke Don Pedro, has returned from war and plans to visit with some of his fellow soldiers. One of those soldiers is Claudio, who falls in love with Hero at first sight. Benedick, a confirmed bachelor, also comes along, and begins banter with the no-nonsense Beatrice. 

Leonato holds a masked ball to celebrate the return of his friends. While at the ball, the engagement and marriage of Claudio and Hero is arranged. At the same time, Don Pedro’s brother, Don John, envious of the hero worship Claudio receives, hatches a plan to shame the fair Hero and ruin the wedding. Don John plots with soldiers, Borachio and Conrad, to deceive Claudio into believing Hero has cheated on him. It is a somewhat adolescent plot that goes terribly awry. Hero is accused at her wedding, of meeting with a lover the night before. In Elizabethan England, Hero losing her virginity before marriage would have been considered an unforgivable scandal. This overblown prank could suddenly lead to a tragic ending.

As a couple, Ava Mingo as Hero and Bradley James Tejada as Claudio, are a perfect counterpoint to the bantering Benedick and Beatrice. Hero and Claudio may be temporarily fooled by the chicanery of Don John and his cohorts, but Mingo and Tejada convince us their characters are worthy of each other’s adoration and love. Christian Denzel Bufford as Don John, Cedric Lamar as Don Pedro, Tyrone Wilson as Borachio, along with Rex Young as Dogberry the night watchman and the rest of the ensemble, are all well-cast moving, this comedy of misdeeds, along to its surprising conclusion.

Ashland resident Lucie K. Scheuer is director and coordinator for two nonprofits in the Rogue Valley: Heart Rising Foundation (aiding Almeda Fire victims) and Uniting for Ukraine RV (aiding emigrating Ukrainian refugees). She is also a nonprofit development consultant, credentialed substance abuse/dual-diagnosis counselor and former copy editor and staff writer with the Los Angeles Times, where her work included features, reviews and a column on films in production. Email her at LucieScheuer19@gmail.com.

Picture of Cameron Aalto

Cameron Aalto

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