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Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024
The Observer

NSR's captivating ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ will eat your heart in the marketplace


The Not-So-Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing” begs the question: “How do you build trust in a relationship, and what happens when it is broken?”

Director Nandini Sadagopan fell in love with this play at first read, admiring the presence of strong female characters Beatrice and Hero that she could look up to in life and in love — a change from many of the Bard’s young heroines who are in the midst of discovering what love is. In her production, Sadagopan wants to emphasize the contrasting nature of Beatrice and Hero’s respective romances in relation to the play’s themes of love and trust. 

The show, set in Messina, Sicily, follows the development of romantic relationships between the iron-willed and quick-witted Beatrice (Natalie Allton) and Benedick (Dominic Keene) and between the kind Hero (Grace Gasper) and the passionate Claudio (Christina Randazzo). Allton and Keene play their characters with expert talent, balancing scenes of emotional complexity and depth with those of a more lighthearted and comedic nature. The development of their romance in the show is natural and well-executed. Gasper’s portrayal of the somewhat tragic hero is gut-wrenching, and her pain is palpable in the more emotional moments of the production. Randazzo’s Claudio is a delight. While the audience is made to villainize her in parts due to the nature of the plot, she handles it with grace and believability. 

Ultimately, the cast as a whole is perfect. Every person’s performance is a standout. Isabel Olesinski plays Leonato with unmatched ferocity and deftness, Josh Lehman’s Don Pedro is commanding and skillful and the combined forces of Andrew Arcidiacono (Dogberry), Noah Sim (Verges) and Alyssa Miulli (Seacoal) shine throughout their shenanigans. Mariko Jurcsak’s villainous Don John reeks of excellence as she delivers her lines with charm and artful malice. Marven Corrielus (Borachio) and Sammy Kacius (Conrade) assist her nefarious deeds with playful humor and amusing banter.

The production as a whole is charming — the stage is adorned with flowering vines, candles, golden dishes and cushy furniture. An archway in the background covered in lights and vines serves many purposes as an entryway and an altar. The lighting shifts with the tone of the scenes well, highlighting moments of humor and tragedy beautifully. Music and dance enhance the performance, with specially crafted classical musical compositions by Laurynas Zavistanavicius and rumba and swing pieces created by Cece Swartz and Megan Sherry. By building the environment around the actors through these production and design elements, Sadagopan believes they can focus their energy solely on developing their characters. 

Since January, the cast and crew have been working collaboratively to deliver this performance with the greatest efficiency and efficacy. They’ve fully dived into the text and prepared themselves to assume the roles they’ve been cast. Their hard work and skill are evident from the beginning, and it remains strong to the end. Their audience interaction and movement around the set draw you into the scene, keeping you invested and leaving you wanting more. 

Sadagopan's vision for this production was to bring the text to life in the way it was intended. People throughout the years have altered the bard’s material to fit more modern contexts or to have a “take,” but Sadagopan believes the text is modern enough without adding anything extra. 

After the conclusion of the show, she encourages the audience to look for the epilogue, the “What next?” of the narrative. Interpersonal conflicts may seem to be resolved by the end, but where do the characters go from there? How do they carry out their lives now that they’ve found their partners, and how does their love and trust for each other change with the events that had occurred? 

Ultimately, “Much Ado About Nothing” is a reflection of our contemporary reality. It’s real, it’s touching and it’s absolutely hilarious. You’ll find yourself “accidentally in love” with this production.

Performances of “Much Ado About Nothing” on April 19-21 at 7:30 p.m. and on April 22 at 3:30 p.m. will be held in the Washington Hall Lab Theatre. Tickets are available to purchase for $5 at the LaFortune Box Office or at the door for $7 while supplies last.

Keene (left) and Allton (right) share a dance during an intimate scene.

Randazzo (left) and Gasper (right) share a kiss.

Title: “Much Ado About Nothing”

Director: Nandini Sadagopan

Produced by: Not-So-Royal Shakespeare Company

Starring: Natalie Allton, Dominic Keene, Grace Gasper, Christina Randazzo

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5