|The cast of Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Alessandra Nicole.|
Monday, July 16, 2018
By Mike Logothetis
Before the proverbial curtain rose on Opening Night, Delaware Shakespeare Managing Director Matt Sullivan gushed over the “strong team” of actors in Much Ado About Nothing – the 16th annual summer production for the company. Although probably biased, Sullivan’s assessment was right on the money: The cast makes this show fantastic.
In her directorial debut with "DelShakes," Bi Jean Ngo pairs Barrymore Award-winning actress Krista Apple (Beatrice) with J Hernandez (Benedick) to lead the merry company of players in the Bard’s lively war of wits between the sexes. But kudos also go to supporting players like Melissa Fuhr (Balthasar), Eric Mills (Don Pedro), Hannah Van Sciver (Dogberry), and Jo Vito (Claudio). Each actor embraced the assigned role and excelled in the portrayal.
Apple’s interpretation of Beatrice was at once stern and biting, but also vulnerable and emotive. While the proudly single Beatrice enjoys a “skirmish of wits” with any man or woman, she revels in squaring off against the formidable bachelor Benedick. Along with his sharp tongue, Hernandez mesmerized the patrons at Rockwood Park with subtle body language and mannerisms which made his turn as Benedick wonderful. In the same vein, Van Sciver seized the secondary role of the constable Dogberry and had the audience in the palm of her hand. (All the while, her character probably couldn’t tell you which hand was left, right or wrong.)
The interplay and timing between the actors is exceptional and Ngo set a good pace for the action. As the play is one of the few in the Shakespeare canon where the majority of the text is written in prose, the actors have more flexibility in their deliveries. I credit Ngo with allowing her cast to explore the text and pauses between words, sentences, and themes. There is a modern feel to the centuries-old script.
Ngo is a recipient of the F. Otto Haas Emerging Artist Barrymore Award and is a founding member of PAPA (Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists). She most recently received the Fox Fellowship Foundation Award for Artist with Extraordinary Potential from TCG (Theatre Communications Group).
Michael Hahn composed all-original music for this production and Dixon Li choreographed lively dance numbers which fill the stage. The music is a nice touch and adds great feel to the action or entr’acte.
The physical stage is an asymmetric multi-level space with a backdrop of ribbons which brings to mind a Renaissance event. Kevin Meehan described the design as “Baz Luhrmann [meets] sexy Etsy wedding.” The nooks and crannies of the theater set into the trees at Rockwood allow for ample hiding spots in key scenes. The action moves seamlessly from left to right and from up to down. It’s quite dynamic.
The plot of Much Ado About Nothing revolves around love, trickery, honor, misunderstanding, hope, deed, and misdeed. Will Claudio win the fair hand of Hero (Claris Park) even though Don John (David Pica) plots against the union with help from Borachio (Robert Mora) and Conrade (Justin Bowen)? Can Leonato (Michael Fuchs) find a man worthy to tame his headstrong niece Beatrice? “6th and lastly,” will the law of Messina, romantic love, and the morality of God triumph? It’s a Shakespearean comedy, so I think you can probably guess the answers, but maybe not the hysterical proceedings.
The part of the good Friar Francis will be played by a rotating cast of local faith leaders from the Delaware community, including Rabbi Michael Beals of Congregation Beth Shalom, the Rev. Edwin Estevez of Grace Methodist Church, the Rev. Roberta Finkelstein of the First Unitarian Universalist Church, the Rev. Emma Horn of First Presbyterian Church – Newark, Dr. Todd Townsend of The Resurrection Center, and David Savage, a lay leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Wilmington area. Rev. Brian Lewis of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church may have a secondary calling as a Shakespearean actor by the way he performed his duties on Opening Night.
General admission to the festival is $20. Tickets are $18 for seniors (65+), and active military (and their families). Student tickets are $16. Children age 5 and under are free. Every Sunday is “Family Night,” with special activities before the performance and free admission for children 12 and under, when accompanied by an adult.
To buy tickets, go to www.delshakes.org or purchase at the door. Curtain is at 7:30 from Wednesdays through Saturdays and at 6 on Sundays. Gates open at 6:15 p.m. for pre-show entertainment and picnics Wednesday through Saturday and at 4:45 p.m. on Sundays. The festival concludes its summer run on July 29.
Attendees are invited to bring their own chairs, blankets and picnic baskets to Rockwood Park. A limited number of reserved lawn chairs are available at each performance. These “Saved Seats” are set up in premium locations in the first row of the “lawn chairs” section, behind blankets and low-backed beach chairs. Reservations must be made in advance and cost $40. The concession stand features picnic-appropriate sandwiches and snacks from Janssen’s Market and wine sold by the bottle in the Swigg Festival Wine Shop, as well as soft drinks, candy and Delaware Shakespeare t-shirts.
The new Delaware Shakespeare VIP Tent provides a place for groups of 10 or more to gather with clients, colleagues, and friends before the show. Wandering Bards will visit each tent plus greet the patrons by name from the stage. VIP Tent packages can be customized to include catered picnics, wine, reserved seats and more.
The 2018 Delaware Shakespeare season will include two full productions – the current Summer Festival (Much Ado About Nothing) and a fall Community Tour (The Merchant of Venice) from October 24 through November 18. The fall run will end with two ticketed performances at OperaDelaware Studios on November 17 and 18.
My recommendation is to “suffer love” and make plans to go to Rockwood. Get there early to snag a good spot and enjoy the short pre-show modern comedy loosely based on Much Ado About Nothing.