New setting doesn’t diminish ‘Much Ado About Nothing’
Las Vegas Review-Journal · 5 Oct 2015 · By Richard Davis
Though Shakespeare purists might be put off by the change of setting for Nevada Conservatory
Theatre’s ravishing production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” for those who believe the play’s the thing, this is Shakespeare at its best.
“Much Ado” provides a whirlwind of Shakespeare’s motifs. We have the shrewish Beatrice,
whose sharp tongue repels but appeals to the rapscallion Benedick, who likewise has forsworn
married life. Beatrice later shows the fierce masculinity of a Lady Macbeth.
We have the Romeo-like Claudio, whose doubt over the innocent Hero’s fidelity is as impetuous
as his love and leads to an Othello-like rage of jealousy.
To remedy this tragic turn of events on Claudio and Hero’s wedding day, Friar Francis urges
upon Hero a feigned death a la Juliet. Leonato is like the Prince of Mantua, whose noble authority
cannot sway the course of human passion. Antonio and Dogberry both provide Falstaff-sized humor.
At the center stands the mysterious envy of an Iago in the villainy of Don John, the bastard
brother of Don Pedro, whose calumny lends weight to a plot that would otherwise seem to be about nothing.
Director Michael Lugering’s Roaring Twenties setting masterfully captures the play’s motif of the
nothingness upon which we base our lives through gossip, self-deception and illusion.
In the opening scene, Lugering has the main characters miming a game of badminton, similar to
the famous scene from Michelangelo Antonioni’s film “Blow-Up.” Like the play’s masquerade ball,
stunningly costumed by Jennifer Van Buskirk, the scene highlights the themes of illusion and self deception.
The beautiful scenic design by Roxy Mojica evokes a movie screen against which the characters
act out their illusions. Elizabeth Kline’s lighting design was as translucent as a mirage.
The play’s strong Beatrice was played by Amber Bonasso. Van Buskirk’s boyish-looking
Twenties’ designs stunningly complimented Bonasso’s fierce portrayal. Her thrice cry of “O, that I
were a man!” struck at the heart of the limitations and illusions of gender roles. Bonasso has
marvelous comedic timing.
Lugering’s nontraditional casting of Stefanie Resnick as Friar Francis (she is effective in the role)
was appropriate for his Twenties setting for the play — think evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson
while also highlighting Shakespeare’s challenge to gender roles.
Clinton Brandhagen’s Benedick was a complex romantic sparring partner. First appearing as
something of a buffoon and a determined bachelor, he cleans up well when he is struck by love for Beatrice. The two made an erotic romantic pairing. Brandhagen’s Benedick is the most real character in the play. He is not a moon‐ struck lover — he cannot write romantic doggerel — but reveals his love in action. While showing us the sincerity of Benedick’s heart, Brandhagen’s physical comedy was also delightful.
Samuel Cordes and Rachel Gilyard as the young lovers Claudio and Hero were dreamily
romantic. Gilyard looked like a delicious cream puff in Van Buskirk’s costumes, and when falsely
accused she tugged at our heartstrings.
Likewise, the handsome Cordes was delightful as the impetuous Claudio, and when deceived,
the cruelty of his reaction was evident as the consequence of his broken heart. Stephon Pettway must have relished playing Leonato because he was able to show us his wonderful comic deadpans while also providing a powerful demonstration of Shakespearean oratory in his defense of Hero.
Similarly, Jack Lafferty gave a strong performance in the role of Don Pedro.
Though he originates much of the deception, Bernhard Verhoeven’s Don John is the most
revealed character in the play. Van Buskirk has him shirtless at the masked ball. Yet, transparent
though he is, Verhoeven’s villain is inscrutable. He personifies the mystery of evil.
Darek Riley’s Dogberry is hilariously overdone. He is aided and abetted in his over-the-top
antics by sidekicks Garrison Lopez-Quizon and Carson Wilson.
Cast standout Richard Munchkin brought touching humor to his avuncular portrayal of Antonio.
What: Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Where: UNLV’s Judy Bailey Theatre
When: Oct. 2-11
For tickets, please visit: http://www.unlv.edu/event/nevada-conservatory-theatre-much-ado-about-nothing?delta=0