Corrections or additions?

This review by Anne Rivera was prepared for the July 28, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Just as Elizabethan theater audiences had to adjust to a stage where

all the female parts were played by men or young boys, the audience at

Princeton Rep Company’s "Much Ado about Nothing" has to get used to

Shakespearean language in a scene the program describes as "1945,

Messina, U.S.A."

Shakespeare set the play in Messina, Sicily where it opens at the home

of Messina’s Governor Leonato. A messenger announces that Don Pedro,

Prince of Aragon will be arriving soon with several of his men, who

have recently been victorious in battle.

In the Princeton Rep production directed by Victoria Liberatori – one

of many adaptations throughout the play’s history – the arrivals are

American soldiers who come to the villa of Leonato (C. M. Silver) in a

vintage Ford pick-up.

Despite the fact that they wear American army uniforms, the soldiers

address one another as "Count," and "Your Lordship," and frequently

swear "By my troth." The discrepancy between language and appearance

is disconcerting at first. After one has adjusted to it, however, one

can view the performance on its own merits – and they are


Almost as soon as the soldiers arrive in Messina, Major Claudio

(Addison Mcquigg) becomes enamored of Leonato’s daughter Hero (Natalie

Knepp). Lt. Colonel Don Pedro persuades Hero and her father that

Claudio is a worthy match; and the marriage date is set for a week

hence. (The Elizabethans did things quickly!) No one reckons with

Captain Don John, Don Pedro’s evil brother. Don John manages by

devious means to persuade Claudio and Don Pedro that Hero – who is

little more than a child – has been unfaithful.

Don John is so convincing that Claudio denounces Hero at the altar.

Incredibly, her father Leonato also turns on her. The passion with

which Leonato decries Hero seems out of keeping with his former

soft-spoken manner. Perhaps, however, an Elizabethan audience could


It seems that the only friends remaining to poor Hero are her cousin

Beatrice (Nell Gwynn) and Friar Francis (Ryan Shrime, who doubles as

George Seacoal, a deputy). They are the only ones who believe that

Hero has done nothing wrong. They convince her to play dead until her

good name can be restored, and her death is duly reported to Claudio

and Leonato.

Beatrice, one of Shakespeare’s strongest female characters, is

struggling with her own dilemma. She has sworn never to marry but has

overheard Hero discussing a certain Captain Benedick (Alfredo Narciso)

with her maid Margaret (Laura Danilov). Benedick, a sworn bachelor,

stays at the church with Hero and Beatrice after the others leave. He,

too, is troubled because he overheard his friends declaring that

Beatrice loves him!

The audience knows, of course, that the "friends" were plotting to

make a match between Beatrice and Benedick, but the protagonists know


In the end, the deception is discovered by hapless chief-of-police

Dogberry (Hal B. Klein), his deputy Verges (Natalie Megules, who

doubles as First Lieutenant Balthassa) and Deputy Seacoal. In a

hilarious scene the three capture Borachio (Joe Fellman), Don John’s

accomplice, and bring him to Leonato’s house where he confesses


The pacing of the three officers is perfect and they come close to

stealing the show with their antics. Dogberry’s attempts at

sophistication in Leonato’s presence result in one malapropism after

another and the result is hilarious.

Almost too hilarious – to the point of slapstick – are the scenes in

which Beatrice and Benedick overhear their friends trying to entice

them into courtship. The two would-be loners dodge behind trees,

crouch beneath skimpy bushes and tear around the stage in their

attempts to eavesdrop without being seen.

All the Princeton Rep players are competent; some are superlative. The

roles of Beatrice and Benedick provide actors with an opportunity to

portray a gamut of emotions; and Gwynn and Narciso, (the only Actors

Equity player in the production), do it admirably. The role of

Beatrice is reminiscent of Katherina in "The Taming of the Shrew."

Katherina, however, eventually becomes submissive, while Beatrice

never loses her independent will. She is more than a match for the

sardonic Benedick.

In the first scenes, McQuigg, as Claudio, and Knepp, as Hero do not

come across as convincing lovers. Shakespeare, of course, has thrust

them right into each other’s arms without giving them any time for the

character development he affords to Beatrice and Benedick as the play


A puzzle for critics has been the motivation of Don John. What

possible reason can there be for him to denounce Hero? Ziegler plays

him with a convincing poker face.

In Shakespeare’s words, Don John is the "bastard brother of Don Pedro"

who has recently had a falling out with the lieutenant colonel. Don

Pedro supports the marriage of Claudio and Hero; and perhaps that is

enough reason for Don John to try and stop it. Don John’s motivation

is not clear in the Princeton Rep production, but it is not the fault

of the actors.

There is certainly, however, a good reason for the title "Much Ado

about Nothing." Don John’s statement that Hero was unfaithful to

Claudio is based on a fictitious transgression; the report of Hero’s

death is untrue; and the love of Beatrice and Benedick grows out of

whispered gossip concerning sentiments that do not exist until they

are overheard!

"Much Ado about Nothing" is well-suited for an outdoor stage because

the scene does not change throughout. Set designer Timothy Amrhein has

created a very believable two-story Italian villa, covered with rose

trellises and opening onto a red-tiled terrace where almost all the

play’s action takes place.

In the curtain call, choreographed by Kristin Scott to the

accompaniment of Big Band Music, the actors singly and in pairs

execute their own dance steps. It is a stunning finale to an ambitious

and accomplished performance.

– Anne Rivera

Much Ado About Nothing, Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival,

Pettoranello Gardens Amphitheater, 609-921-3682. Rain or shine. $10

donation requested. Thursdays to Sundays to Sunday, August 8, 8 p.m.

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