Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing recently received the Ohio University Theater Division treatment. Director Dennis Lee Delaney reimagined this classic tale by setting it in 1945 instead of the traditional Elizabethan Age in which it is usually set.
Audiences entered the theatre had the scene set for them right away: the scenery suggested an Italian town that had been touched by World War II, and Don Pedro and his men are among a group of World War II soldiers returning from war. Jazz music is naturally thrown into the mix at various points throughout the play. Overall, this twist lent itself nicely to the tone and plot of the play.
The highlight of the story was the romance between Benedick, a companion to Don Pedro, and Beatrice, the niece of Leonato, the Governor of the seaport where the story is set. Hilarity ensues when Benedick’s companions and Beatrice’s family decide to make the pair realize their feelings for each other. The scenes in which these two groups arrange for Benedick and Beatrice separately to overhear them raving about how madly the other one is in love with them are the highlight of the show; the auditorium was filled with nearly ceaseless laughter for a matter of minutes. This romantic couple starts off butting heads with each other but of course fall in love by the end of the show, and this is portrayed to excellence by Brian Epperson and Ellie Clark. Epperson in particular has an easy comedic presence on stage; his timing and physical comedy were superb.
Another romantic plot is brought into play by Claudio, another companion of Don Pedro, and Hero, Leonato’s daughter, portrayed by Jake Sabinsky and Bri McCabe. These two lovers fall in love at the very beginning of the play but run afoul when Claudio is falsely informed that Hero has been unfaithful to him and he cruelly leaves her at the altar. Then, because this is Shakespeare, Hero’s family helps her to fake her own death. Claudio learns of his mistake and deeply regrets his actions, so he agrees to marry Leonato’s niece to make up for it, who is revealed at the wedding to be the live Hero. Sabinsky and McCabe pulled off this complicated plot with just the right amount of angst and sweetness.
The set, which began in a dilapidated state after the war, was slowly restored throughout the show, and the lighting was arranged to suggest a warm and inviting atmosphere. Overall, the production made for a relatively lighthearted and amusing night at the theatre.
There is a reason Shakespeare’s plays are still told hundreds of years after his death, and this production reminded its audience why.