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,
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
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
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
"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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