Much Ado About Nothing... With A Twist
Though "Much Ado About Nothing" is a comedy, it also contains the seeds of tragedy--a tragedy that is only diverted into comedy by the author’s good graces near the end. But for much of the play, the two central love stories--that of Benedick (played here by David Lutheran) and Beatrice (Sasha Castroverde) and Claudio (Eva Sanderson) and Hero (who is played, at one time or another, by every member of the cast)--serve as mirror images of one another, as Benedick and Beatrice overcome their disdain for each other and fall in love, and Claudio and Hero, mutually smitten from the first, come within a whisker of being fatally defrauded.
The result is as much Shakespearean uproar as any of the Bard’s best comedies, and Bad Habit Productions takes things a madcap step or two farther by casting only five actors to fill all the roles (hence the badinage as Hero’s dress, the character’s most striking visual attribute, is passed around among them). The troupe also outfits their production, which is tiny in scale but grand in scope, with modern pop music (and that’s why... or so it is implied to us... "the lady is a tramp").
If you’ve seen the Kenneth Branagh movie from 1993, you may remember Benedick and Beatrice more than anything else. Branagh played Benedick opposite his then-wife, Emma Thompson, to great comic and romantic effect. Lutheran and Castroverde offer sparks of their own, though, and it’s not long before they establish themselves in their roles. This is not an easy feat, mind you, since Castroverde also plays Don John, Friar Francis, and Seacole, as well as taking her turn at Hero. Lutheran, meantime, doubles up as both Benedick and Borachio, as well as donning Hero’s garb.
The others in the cast pull similar arduous duty, and for the most part they make it look easy. Sanderson is apt and able as the inept Dogbery; Adam Kassim plays Hero’s "friend & advisor," Ursula, and in this case the character is no dowdy frump or sex kitten but a fashion-forward gay best friend who flirts outrageously with the intrigued Dogbery. (Kassim also plays Don Pedro and Verges.)
To keep the characters distinct (not always easy given some of the quick changes that have to happen in, literally, seconds), the cast play each of the dramatis personae larger than life and with vivid color. Sometimes the effect is suitably riotous; sometimes things veer into camp. That’s okay, because Shakespeare is durable and it’s not only the brave thing to do, it’s also the right thing to trust the material to stand up to experimentation and overstatement.
This twisty play does drag a little toward the end; that’s true of many of Shakespeare’s works (it may be heresy to say so, but there it is). That’s not the cast’s fault, though, and to their credit (and director Daniel Morris’ credit also) they keep the energy flowing. There’s no room for stuffiness in this bright, sometimes ramshackle, but consistently delightful production.
"Much Ado About Nothing... With A Twist" continues through May 13 at the Boston Center for the Arts. For tickets and more information, please visit http://badhabitproductions.org (Bad Habit Productions) or http://bcaonline.org (Boston Center for the Arts).