23 August 2015

Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare

I’ve seen a number of Shakespeare plays performed, and the Rustic Mechanicals’ production of Much Ado About Nothing was nothing to write home about. The show was good, but not great. I suppose it is about what one should expect from what is basically a community theatre’s touring group performing in a park.[1]

The setting for the production is described in the playbill as “Post World War I – Wine Country,” which seems to be an era that has lately captured the imagination of Shakespearean directors (I’ve seen at least two productions in the last five years, and at least one film, that used an early 1920s aesthetic). The costuming was good, it looked pretty accurate—though the obviously toy rifle carried by one of the soldiers weakened the mise-en-scène more than it helped. Performing in a park, the choice to set this production in “Wine Country” made sense because they could account for a natural backdrop of WV forests, which visually meshed with the few vines and trees-in-pots that were part of the staging.

In acting terms, I feel the strongest performances were given by Doug Seckman as Borachio, and Steve McElroy as Claudio. Seckman performed the nefarious henchman as a kind of New York gangster figure, including the accent. While not menacing as a gangster, his performance followed in the tradition of bumbling gangster henchmen (e.g., the gangsters in Kiss Me, Kate). And for me the strongest parts of McElroy’s performance were the overacting scenes to convince Benedick that Beatrice loved him. McElroy’s strategically over-the-top performances in these scenes were the most convincing action of the show because it seemed like that was one of the few moments when a performer genuinely launched him or herself into the role, rather than having the performance visibly mediated by trying to perform rather than be the character.

The other performance I have to mention is Aaron Harris’ Dogberry. I was not originally sold on the loud, awkwardly laughing, gasping, Texas-accent cowboy sheriff performance, but as Harris spent more time on stage the character really grew on me. While definitely not the direction I would have taken the character, Harris took the decision to perform that way and ran with it, creating an awkwardly good performance of one of the Bard’s odder characters.

[1] The Rustic Mechanicals are a touring group dedicated to performing Shakespeare’s works; the company is part of the Vintage Theatre Company, formed to produce theatre in West Virginia.

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