I have a problem with the word fun. I don’t relate to it. Fun sounds like something that involves perky people who are jumping up and down nearby. Very nearby. Not only are they jumping up and down, they are squealing. They are encouraging me to do the same. I find both the invitation and the idea revolting.
I have had fun. I DO have fun. However I am in constant search for another word that will banish the image of the jumping squealing humans. No luck so far.
That being said, The Public Theater Mobile Shakespeare Unit’s production of Much Ado About Nothing was pretty friggin’ fun. Serious, crackling fun. It is 90 minutes of dy-no-mite that keeps you on your toes and in your seats.
Here is why: no frills. Like the recent extraordinary production of Our Town, directed by David Cromer at the Barrow Street Theatre, this production is performed with the house lights up full. The set is a green square of mystery material in the center of the theatre. The audience is in four sections on each side of the square. The costumes are simple. The girlie girls Hero (Kerry Warren) and Beatrice (Samantha Soule) are done up in white, pink, grey and black (Good ‘n’ Plenty anyone?) and the boy boys Claudio (A.Z. Kelsey), Benedick (Michael Braun) as well as the men Don Pedro (Marc Damon Johnson) and Leonato (Ramsey Faragallah) are in earth tones. The bad guys Don John (Lucas Caleb Rooney) and Borachia (Rosal Colón) are dressed in black or camouflage. No fuss, no muss no worry. And when six of these eight actors play other characters, the costumes alone tell you exactly who these folks.
Set, lights and costumes dispensed with, we can all hunker down and wallow in the text. Which is exquisite and sharp and filled with flight and folly. These are people who are in love with the idea of love. They have pulled over on the highway of life and taken a break from war, from school, from frittering away their time. Love is the name of the deal and it is being dished up poached, strewed, and fricasseed. Any way you want it you will find it here. And you will find it’s opposite Betrayal as well. What would a play about love be without something dark and sinister against which to play the Queen and King of Hearts.
Both sides of the coin are delivered with grace and skill and alacrity. You see, this is a Shakespeare that is made to be accessible because it travels to prisons, parks and homeless shelters in the same way that Joe Papp brought Shakespeare to this city 50 years ago. So this is a trimmed down Shakespeare without the fluff of unnecessary dialogue. This is a version that gives you only the meat – not because the people on the tour stops are stupid, but because they are starving for theatre and the stories it will bring to them. They want an undiluted story because they live lives with no frills. They want to see theatre that comes to them like a heat seeking missile because they do not have the time or the inclination to wait around. They want to see a production that will prove to them they are not alone.
And is that not what theatre is all about.
This very fine production does all of that and more. The cast is not even in their skill sets, but Kwame Kwei-Armah’s direction pulls them all together so exquisitely that they meld into the story. It is the STORY that is made glorious here. The actors serve the story, and the story serves the audience.
Were it ever thus. This is a limited run so do yourself a favor and cancel a Christmas cocktail in favor of gifting yourself with this extraordinary experience. One that does not include any woman over 30 – may I just point that out…..
Bravo. Bravo. Bravo.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING by William Shakespeare, Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah and featuring choreography by Chase Brock
WITH: Michael Braun (Benedick); Rosal Colón (Margaret, Borachia, Friar Francis); Ramsey Faragallah (Leonato, Watchman); Marc Damon Johnson (Don Pedro, Verges); A.Z. Kelsey (Claudio, Conrade); Lucas Caleb Rooney (Dogberry, Don John); Samantha Soule (Beatrice); and Kerry Warren (Hero, Sexton).
Scenic design by Timothy R. Mackabee; costume design by Clint Ramos; and music by Shane Rettig.
The Mobile Shakespeare Unit’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING began previews on Monday, November 25 and will run through Sunday, December 15 in the LuEsther Theater, with an official press opening on Tuesday, December 3. The performance schedule is Mondays through Sundays at 8:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays
at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. (There is no performance on Wednesday, December 4 or Monday, December 9) Single tickets, priced at $20, are on sale now and can be purchased by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street.