“Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.”
– William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing (II.iii.28-31)
As the quintessential romantic comedy of Shakespeare’s collection, Elon University’s polite production of Much Ado About Nothing showcases that there’s much ado about a lot. Easily overlooked as a result of its comedic witticism and joyously romantic ending, Must Ado tackles very serious and sometimes dark themes such as deception, betrayal, and gossip.
The premise chronicles two sets of lovers as they navigate personal discovery and negotiate marriage. Upon the start of the play, Beatrice and Benedick are engaged in a “merry war” of distain for one another, both citing their repulsion of love and refusal to ever marry. In juxtaposition there are Claudio and Hero, who, enamored by their love and untainted, are preparing for their wedding. As conspired shenanigans and maliciousness ensue, a genuine courtship develops between Beatrice and Benedick, and both couples are tested.
Kate Conway as Beatrice and Tyler Alverson in the role of Benedick, were lovely and strong. Although at times the romantic chemistry among the two was inconsistent, separately, both had a proven dexterity for the intellectual bite of the language. They were well matched in terms of ability and vitality. The cast as a collective provided solid performances deserving of praise. Benedetto Robinson (Claudio), Alex Clayton (Hero), Jared Allen (Don Pedro), Winston Koone (Leonato), and Maxel Garcia (Verges) are all worth mentioning for their contributions.
However, the production had several breakout moments from a couple of actors that were especially noteworthy! Dan Matisa’s performance as Dogberry, the hilarious constable in charge of the night watch, stole the show on several occasions. His delivery of the text and commitment to that character elevated the production’s comedic potency. The fullness and larger-than-life qualities of his performance, which is commonly seen in comic relief characters, has the potential to over shadow the effervescence of the other actors when compared.
JJ Niemann as Balthasar was able to create a memorable performance out of an otherwise overlooked minor character with the aid of his beautiful singing voice. Although limited to only a couple musical selections, Niemannn was able to capture both the joviality of love and anguish of heartache. His lyrical tenor reflected the emotional essences of Shakespeare’s intent, and was unquestionably a surprising highlight of the show.
The set, on the other hand, leaves a great deal to the imagination. To be fair, the wooden platform, tiered and crescent shaped, provides an effective foundation for the play to take place. However, the floral paisley linen, greenish in color, which backdrops the majority of the black box, does little to nothing for the intended “Italian” ambiance. It is unclear as to what position the set alone is taking in the production. Visually, without the staging of actors, dialogue, or directorial commentary from the playbill, the transformation of the Black Box is indeed elaborate, yet feels unintentionally neutral and indistinctive.
Overall, the production was adequate and enjoyable, even if a bit safe. Kevin Otos’ direction strays very little from conventional approaches to Shakespeare in terms of casting and conceptualization. Even the Jessica Edwards’ costume design, well constructed and period consistent, takes very few risks or creative liberties.
Essentially, the show works diligently to please, especially for Shakespearean purists. In the process, it succeeds in generating a perfectly charming evening.
Much Ado About Nothing continues through Saturday, February 8. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.