William Shakespeare’s classic comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” features archaic language and a 16th century setting, but its themes of deception, yearning and communication breakdown still hold strong relevance today.
From April 16–19, New Paltz students, under the direction of Associate Professor Frank Trezza, put on a series of four incredible performances on the main stage at McKenna Theatre.
The story of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy can be explained by its title. “Much Ado” is the struggles faced by the main characters, and “Nothing” is the gossip, lies and rumors that cause the problems.
The story takes place in the Italian town of Messina. A nobleman named Leonato, played by theatre major David Inge, lives with his daughter Hero, played by third–year theatre major Analise Rios, and niece Beatrice, played by fourth–year theatre major Jessica Contino.
At the start of the play, Leonato welcomes friends home from war. The group includes his close friend Prince Don Pedro, played by theatre major Elijah Dederick, the upbeat nobleman Claudio, played by theatre major Dean Mahoney and Benedick, a witty soldier played by fourth–year theatre major Scott Phillips. Also accompanying the troop is the mysterious Don John, played by fourth-year theatre major Jeremy Sapadin.
Claudio is set to marry Hero, but Don John and his two conspirators frame Hero by making her appear to cheat on Claudio in front of him on the night before their wedding.
Claudio falls for the trap and believes what he saw. He spurns Hero on their wedding day while telling everyone that she was unfaithful. One fake death and a whole lot of problem solving later, and everything is sorted out. Of course it was: otherwise this play wouldn’t be a comedy, but a tragedy after all.
The love story between Beatrice and Benedick is what really makes “Much Ado About Nothing” a classic. Both Beatrice and Benedick appear publicly to despise each other, but are in fact in love with one another. Due to their stubborn personalities, they will never admit their true feelings to one another.
Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato design a plot to let Benedick know of Beatrice’s love for him by speaking of it in public while Benedick listens while hiding behind a tree, thinking they don’t know he is there.
Hero and her two waiting- gentlewomen Ursula and Margaret, played by fourth–year theatre major Iris Fine and second–year theatre major Jessica Lyke respectively, do the same routine for Beatrice.
Both scenes are absolutely hilarious. Beatrice and Benedick truly believe that they are hidden, even though they are clearly in plain sight, and the exaggerated endorsements given to Beatrice and Benedick make the audience feel like they are in on the joke. The precise timing exhibited by the actors in these scenes was as impressive as their ability to keep their composure even as massive roars of laughter erupted from the crowd.
Chemistry is required between the actors playing Beatrice and Benedick, and Contino and Phillips completely delivered on that front. Contino duplicates Beatrice’s headstrong, cynical and witty demeanor effortlessly, and Phillips seems completely comfortable characterizing Benedick’s demonstrative and whimsical behavior. Put them together and their efforts yield a back–and–forth like nothing else I’ve ever seen in a play.
Fourth–year theater arts major Rob Gagnon played Dogberry, the comical constable in charge of the unorganized Messina night watch. They were responsible for arresting Don John’s henchmen, played by theatre majors John Cooper Mulderry and Jacob Dabby, for framing Hero.
Gagnon perfectly characterized Dogberry’s arrogance and general incompetence, and would have made Shakespeare proud with his artful execution of Dogberry’s silly malapropisms.
The stumbling, incapable nightwatchmen were played by Michael Hussey, Anthony Leiner and Sean Orman. Dogberry’s assistant Verges was played by Sophia Beratta, an inept ally that made even Dogberry look authoritative.
Also included in the performance were Anna Heacock as Bellissima, Vin Craig as Antonio, Ryan Christopher Thomas as the Friar and Courtney Gerou as the Sexton.
The complex yet intuitive set, designed by Jared Rutherford, served the performance perfectly, allowing for a diverse series of settings. The costumes, designed by Andrea Varga, felt right out of the 16th century.
Director Frank Trezza has directed Shakespearian plays before, but this was his first time working on “Much Ado About Nothing.” Trezza felt that he learned much more about the play by directing it as opposed to simply reading the script.
“When you work on a play like this and put it on its feet and explore it with actors, you understand it in a different kind of way,” Trezza said.
Trezza quickly understood that the play’s themes were more applicable to our modern society than some of Shakespeare’s other works.
“At first I saw it as a patriarchal play, but the more I worked on it the more I realized that the men in the play were critiqued, and made mistakes that they had to learn from,” Trezza said. “So I have a deeper affection for the play now that I’ve worked on it.”
Despite the difficult language of Shakespeare’s comedy, Trezza was able to make the lines accessible for the actors and the audience.
“The biggest challenge is getting the company and the audience to understand the language,” Trezza said. “That’s always the challenge with Shakespeare, to hold on to the sense of formality and language, but still let people in and do a good job conveying the story and characters.”
“Much Ado About Nothing” will continue with four more performances from April 23–26 at McKenna Theatre.
Trezza believes the final series of shows will be even better than the opening acts.
“I always tell my students that the opening night is just the beginning,” Trezza said. “I saw the performance grow during the first week, and I think it’s going to get stronger and stronger during the second week.”