Will Benedick and Beatrice admit their love for each other? Are Hero and Claudio doomed to be forever separated? Will Don Jon’s machinations succeed? Will Dogberry make an ounce of sense at some point? Is this a soap opera? No. It’s Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare and currently playing at the Bellevue Little Theatre.
There’s always something a little comforting about the Bard’s comedies as they follow the same formula. You have two main characters sniping at each other before confessing their mutual love, a case of mistaken identity, a slapstick comedy relief character, shenanigans aplenty, and everything gets tied up at the end. The only item that really differentiates this play from Shakespeare’s other comedies (and plays, for that matter) is that this is the only play Shakespeare wrote in prose instead of verse.
Suzanne Withem did an exceptional job directing this production. She coaxed the best performances possible out of her cast, delved into every beat for maximum impact, excellently staged the production, threw in just the right amount of slapstick, and even arranged for a couple of nice dance numbers. Her updating of the tale to a western was also an ingenious touch which worked amazingly well.
The supporting cast did fine work staying within the moments of the show. Their reactions and expressions showed that they were always listening and greatly aided in fleshing out the show. With that being said, projection was a problem and the cast needs to be certain to belt out their lines to overcome the theatre’s black boxish acoustics.
Standout performances were given by Mary Trecek as Leonata, the matriarch of her family; Craig Bond as the drunken, weaselly Borachio; and Ted Lane and William Rodgers as Dogberry, the clueless constable and his infinitely more intelligent sidekick, Verges.
Beau Fisher was so much fun to watch as Benedick. With effortless ease, he captured the intellect and snootishness of Benedick and he handled the nimble wordplay with dazzling grace. Fisher has tremendous gifts as a performer as his gestures beautifully animated his interpretation and precisely punctuated his words. He also makes for an excellent physical comic best demonstrated when he eavesdrops on a conversation about Beatrice’s love for him.
Emma Rasmassen was equally wonderful as Beatrice and her chemistry with Fisher was spot on. She made for a terrific tomboy and brought Beatrice’s sparkling wit to delightful life. Ms Rasmussen also has impressive gifts with physical comedy with her own eavesdropping on a conversation about Benedick’s love for her.
There are few actors in this city who can match Jeremy Earl’s experience with Shakespeare. Earl handles Shakespearian dialogue better than some people speak their native language and this play is no exception with his performance as Don Pedro, the powerful ranch owner. Earl’s mighty baritone and presence lend an air of authority and respect to Don Pedro and leaves nobody wondering that he is a leader among men.
Joshua Parker does a lot of good with his portrayal of Claudio. I loved the sappy lovesickness he gave to the character as there was no doubt that he was in love with Hero. He also handled some of the heavier moments of show well as I did not doubt his anger and sadness when he thought Hero was cheating on him. However he also needed to slow his delivery down and space out his words a bit more as his diction was a bit sloppy.
One of the most surprising performances came from Jon Roberson who played Don Jon, Don Pedro’s Machiavellian half-brother. Roberson is rapidly building a reputation as a master of underplaying as he’s created a villain reminiscent of Donald Pleasance with his soft-spoken nastiness and callousness.
On a technical level, I consider this to be one of the best shows mounted by the BLT. Tom Miller’s set design was simple, but effective with his little ranch house. Zach Kloppenborg’s costume design was right on the money with the western style dresses and cowboy duds (especially the ones worn by Beatrice). Joey Lorincz’s lights beautifully showed the transitions from day to night. And the program lacked a credit for sound design, but it was well suited to every moment of the show.
I found this to be one of the best productions mounted on the BLT stage and its perfect blend of strong direction, strong acting, and accurate technical elements could put it into the running for a number of prizes come awards season. At the very least, it certainly deserves a strong run.
Much Ado About Nothing plays at the Bellevue Little Theatre through Feb 19. Performances are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets cost $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students. For reservations call 402-291-1554 Mon-Sat between 10am-4:30pm. The Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.