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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Much Ado’ transcends time

Published: March 7, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc., Featured

Hold Thy Peace’s 25th show, “Much Ado About Nothing” opens this weekend, a show for everyone who is a nineties kid at heart. This production combines the traditional Shakespeare lines with a nineties backdrop, music and costumes. As stated by directors Aaron Fischer ’15 and Ryan Kacani ’15, “There is method in the madness. “Much Ado” is, in a phrase, Shakespeare’s sitcom, establishing the roots for some of the greatest television programming in history. With over-the-top characters, nonsensical schemes and ill-fitting bedfellows, “Much Ado About Nothing” would be right at home alongside such classic works as “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “Friends,” “Seinfeld” and Beethoven’s ninth symphony.”

Audience members can take delight in the references to the nineties that abound in “Much Ado.” The set boasts old phones and Game Boys and characters walk around eating Fruit Roll-Ups and sitting in blow-up chairs. Benedick (Alex Davis ’15) reads “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” and even when introducing the show, the directors speak of Al Gore’s run for president as though it is in the present day. Yet, what really makes the nineties vibe is the music. Each set change plays to a different famous nineties song, from the “Lion King” soundtrack to the “Pokémon” theme song. Audience members hummed along to themselves as characters danced to the “Backstreet Boys” at their Y2K party. Through auditory and visual modes, Hold Thy Peace succeeded in transporting a play written in the 1600s to an entirely different time period.

Casting for “Much Ado” was, on the whole, very appropriate, with multiple standouts. Samantha LeVangie ’15 thoroughly embraces her character, Beatrice. Sassy and spirited, she manages to stand her ground as an impressive female lead while still showing her soft side toward her eventual mate, Benedick. LeVangie is Beatrice in every moment, even when her character is in the background. In scenes where audience members were probably not watching (such as in the party scene, where she danced and took shots) she remained a consistent standout.

Don John (Emily Duggan ’14) also shines. As the villain of the play, Duggan succeeds primarily through body language. Impressively skilled at making hilarious faces and different vocal intonations, Duggan’s mischievous plots engage the audience. From acting hung-over to stroking her pet cat, audience members were never bored when Duggan entered the stage.

Yet, the group portrays Claudio (Martin Hamilton ’16) as a bumbling simpleton. As is expected, given the original Shakespearean production, Davis steals the spotlight as Benedick. Davis advances the plot with a far more commanding stage presence. Hamilton plays off of the other actors on the stage, rather than initiating events by himself. He plays Claudio as somewhat emasculated, as shown by his costume at the Y2K party. While Benedick plays Batman, stealing the show, Claudio dresses as Robin, and seems disconsolate, displaced during the entire scene. However, he plays his part as a fool adorably, down to the nineties Ash Ketchum style vest.

“Much Ado” reaches for all the comic gimmicks, and gets a laugh every time. Perhaps most notable are the characters’ choices of hiding places. Benedick crouches behind one small pillow while eavesdropping. Audiences erupted in hilarity as lanky Davis tried to hide behind this small object, as he eventually gave up and crept along the floor. Later in the show, LeVangie throws dirty laundry over herself as Beatrice listens in on conversations about how Benedick may truly love her. At one point, she even crawls in the laundry hamper. The guards outside the manor of Leonato (Ben Federlin ’14) attempt to resemble trees. While all these characters act in the background of the main scene, their actions and blocking truly brought a sparkle to the play’s plot line.

Perhaps due to first-night glitches, one place where “Much Ado” fell short was set changes. While the sets for the play were large and painted beautifully, they were cumbersome to move. The play calls for many changes in scenery, often close together. This was often irritating for the audience to watch. Immersed in a scene for a bit, audiences then sit through a long set change just to have another set change happen again soon after. A redeeming grace here, again, is the nineties music, but by the second act, even that could not appease the audience’s boredom while watching the same couch get moved again and again.

Produced, directed, stage-managed and acted all by Brandeis students, “Much Ado” is a feat. “Much Ado” is hilarious even in its original format, but the nineties theme adds a sort of inside-joke aspect to the work that makes it even more enjoyable to watch. Showing at the Shapiro Campus Center Theater on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., “Much Ado” is a show that even the non-Shakespeare fan should see.