Great fun on the run
Dolce Vita-inspired production of Much Ado in the St. Norbert ruins keeps actors and audience hopping
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Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita is the stylistic touchstone for director Ann Hodges’ robust interpretation of the Shakespeare comedy Much Ado About Nothing, produced live (at last!) in the Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park in St. Norbert.
Much Ado About Nothing
By William Shakespeare
● Shakespeare in the Ruins
● To July 2
● Tickets $15-$35 at shakespeareintheruins.com
★★★★ stars out of five
Fun fact: “paparazzi,” the term for predatory celebrity photographers, was inspired by a photographer named Paparazzo in the film.
That explains why the very opening scene in this production sees paparazzi chasing down the prestigious family of Leonata (Melanie Whyte) as news comes of a post-battle visit by the prince Don Pedro (Omar Alex Khan), and a few of his fellow soldiers, including Benedick (Cory Wojcik) and the lovelorn Claudio (Ritchie Diggs), who carries a torch for Leonata’s daughter Hero (Hera Nalem).
There is no such romance for Benedick, who conducts an ongoing “merry war” of words with Hero’s feisty cousin Beatrice (Sarah Constible). To outward appearances, the two loathe each other.
But the true spirit of loathing resides in Don Pedro’s sister Donna Joan (Sophie Smith-Dostmohamed), whose overall misanthropy sets her on a course to cruelly disrupt the blooming romance between Claudio and Hero. The one person who might be able to set things right happens to be an idiot, the officious police constable Dogberry (Mallory James-Margaret).
This is great fun. The production, as usual, requires the audience to move promenade-style from place to place in the ruins grounds. But Hodges keeps the actors hopping as well, especially in the scenes in which various characters conspire to fool both Benedick and Beatrice into believing each is the object of the other’s secret affection.
Constible and Wojcik make for fine sparring partners. Both have a talent for taking the intimidation out of Shakespearean language, sniping at each other with barbed wit that never gets old, augmented by an earthy physicality.
But there are dramatic fireworks too, especially in the scene in which Hero is accused of non-virginal antics at her own wedding, giving Nalem and Whyte in particular a chance to engage in some devastating back-and-forth that, as usual, tends to suck the comedy air out of the piece.
This production gender-flips the characters of Leonato/Leonata and Don Jon/Don Joan with the curious effect of diminishing the sense of patriarchal oppression when it comes to Hero’s crisis.
Nevertheless, it is all worth the trip, especially factoring some solid musical interludes arranged by Tom Keenan, who also plays the virtuous Friar Antonio and Donna Joan’s wicked henchman Borachio.
Dress warm. Alas, the unseasonably cool June evenings lately might have been more conducive to a production of The Winter’s Tale.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.