Get Cultured — April 26, 2016 at 12:20 pm

“Much Ado About Nothing”: An Entertaining Spin On A Classic Play

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When I first sat down to write a review of the most recent play I saw, William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” I honestly didn’t know where to begin. To say the least, this production blew me out of my seat. Despite my seemingly dramatic words, I was so very pleasantly taken aback by just how good this show was. As someone who has studied Shakespeare, read Shakespeare, and performed Shakespeare, I know just how difficult it can be to bring one of his plays to the stage and truly make it captivating, while still maintaining the great playwright’s unique style and language.

One of William Shakespeare’s most famous comedies (as if any of his plays are not famous), this production of “Much Ado About Nothing” was put on by the Paperlight Theater Company and the Spaceship Theater Company. Directed by Monty Renfrow, the show was held in the Playroom Theater on West 46th Street. It’s a very large building, and the theater is located up on the eighth floor.

When I first walked in and settled into my seat, my attention was immediately grabbed by the set of the stage in front of me. Instead of what I would have pictured a Shakespearean set to look like (maybe cobblestone alleyways, or old-fashioned pillars, and so on), the view in front of me was m

ore similar to a modern college dorm room. There were a few rugs on the ground, some flowing curtains of different colors, and, most notably, Christmas lights strung on the wall. There were also a few bean bag chairs in the corner and a round globe light hanging from the ceiling. I was automatically excited to see where they were going to go with this, because it was obviously a deviation from the classical Shakespeare productions most people are used to seeing.

The show begins with a young man sitting upstage, playing the guitar and singing. The song, too, had a modern feel to it, which I quite enjoyed. In fact, there were a few other times throughout the production when a character would sing, and that same performer who played the guitar hardly moved from his spot and would play the background music for many of the scenes. In the original script, there are only two internal songs, but in this show, Shakespearean sonnets set to music (all written by Ralph Puma) were played throughout the majority of the performance. This was a subtle, but very effective touch that greatly added to the tone of each scene, as well as the general tone of the show itself.

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There were two main aspects about this production that made it stand out in such a phenomenal way for me:

The first was the acting. There was not one single person on stage who did not fully commit themselves to their roles. Many of them seemed quite young, too, so it was particularly impressive to see the enormity of talent that was happening right in front of my eyes. Luke Bond creates a Benedick who you can’t help but love. He is cynical, slightly bitter, but oh so charming and witty. Beatrice, a role that could easily be overdone and perhaps even obnoxious, was brilliantly portrayed by Susana Montoya Quinchia. She effortlessly conveys Beatrice’s sharp tongue and cleverness, but never to the point where you find her rude or unpleasant. She speaks matter-of-factly, with a great air of femininity, yet still hits every one-liner perfectly, never missing a beat, and always generating laughter.

Meanwhile, Anie Delgado created a sweet, loving, and endearing Hero. Her character was on stage often, but spoke less than many of the other actors. This could have easily made her forgettable or overlooked, but her charming facial expressions and innocent exterior made her as memorable as anyone else. Ian Pittsinger’s portrayal of Leonato probably incited the most laughter from the crowd due to the fact that his comedic timing was out of this world. Not to mention, Pittsinger also played Antonio, in the form of a sock puppet he carried around on his hand and talked to. This may seem like an odd artistic decision, but the result was absolute hilarity.

Finally, the character of Don Jon, played by Andres Montejo, caught my eye because not only did he transform himself into a deliciously evil villain, but there was something about his choice of character idiosyncrasies that struck me as incredibly unique and impressive. In fact, the way he carried himself and spoke (bitterly and sullenly) reminded me a lot of the character of Tyrion from “Game of Thrones.” Very interesting, indeed. I could go on forever, but in the interest of not sounding like I’m fawning, I’ll just say that the whole rest of the cast (Jamar Brathwaite, Jack Martin, Charlotte Otremba, Sparkman Clark, Robert DiDomenico, Noam Shapiro, Joseph Pascone, Abby DeMauri, Tommy Wright, Devonn Duffin) was equally as brilliant and the talent displayed on stage helped make this production as great as it was.

The other aspect of this show that separated it from (and arguably made it more enjoyable than) most other Shakespeare plays was the consistent undertone of modern life. The script remained true to Shakespeare’s words, no changes were made to the classic writing or way of speaking, but almost all other elements shed a modern light upon the story and the characters; from the actors’ facial expressions and gestures, to the Budweiser cans they carried around at the parties. Shakespeare plays, whether read or watched on stage, can be intimidating for some people; they may even come across as slightly elitist and unrelatable. However, once one is able to understand the story of each play, it becomes obvious that the situations and characters are not only understandable, but they are incredibly relatable. If ever a Shakespearean production were to convey that, it would be this one. According to managing director, Kendal Hooper, “These stories aren’t about people in tights running around a stage saying unintelligible things, they’re about real human beings like you and me who do crazy things to each other. So to help with that, we set it very specifically out of time, because it doesn’t matter when the show is set, the story is still just as relevant.”

The set, the original background music, and the modern body language were only the beginning. There were a handful of non-traditional casting choices done to ensure a more all-inclusive, diverse, and contemporary theatrical experience. One example is the aforementioned character of Leonato and the fact that the character of Antonio is the puppet on his hand. The creative masterminds behind this production also chose specifically to have the characters of The Friar, Dogberry, and Conrad (all usually played by men) to be portrayed by female actors, as well as the character of Ursula (who is typically played by a female) to be portrayed by a man. Hooper states, “One of the things that Paperlight Productions strives for…is the inclusion of queer representation in theater…It was also cast this way to show that it doesn’t matter who these characters are played by. Men, women, sock puppets, at the end of the day the story, friends lying and playing tricks on each other, and ultimately love, is the same regardless of the gender of the characters.”

“Much Ado About Nothing” is the first show presented by Paperlight Productions and Spaceship Theater Company, not to mention the first time directing for Monty Renfrow, as well as many of the actors’ first performance outside of college. Paperlight Productions has another show coming up this summer, an original full-length play called “Super” written by Artistic Director Shann Smith. It will be premiering at the Thespis Festival at the end of August.

To catch a performance of this entertaining and original take on Shakespeare’s classic comedy, you can see it Tuesday, April 26th at 7 pm, Wednesday April 27th at 7 pm, and Saturday April 30th at 3 pm. (I should also probably mention that wine and beer is served within the theater, so that’s always a plus.) You can purchase tickets at the door or by visiting http://www.theplayroomtheater.com

Link to the gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/paperlightmuchado
To keep up with Paperlight Productions: https://www.facebook.com/PaperLightProductions/
To listen to the music from the show: https://soundcloud.com/paperlightproductionco

Twisted Talk: When was the last time you saw a Shakespearean production? Do you like Much Ado About Nothing? Discuss below!

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