Encore Michigan

Interlochen’s ‘Much Ado…’ really something

Review July 13, 2018 Marin Heinritz

INTERLOCHEN, Mich–Scholars have noted that in Shakespeare’s day, the word “nothing” was crude slang for the very much something between a woman’s legs. It is for this reason, among others, including the treatment of its heroine as more valuable for her virginity than her humanity, that “Much Ado About Nothing,” is critiqued for its misogyny.

However, this is Shakespeare, perhaps Shakespeare at his comedic best. And in the hands of Director William Church as part of Interlochen Center for the Arts’ Shakespeare Festival, the inherent darkness in the plot is overshadowed by utter delight in this masterful production that shows, yet again, where one must travel to find the best Shakespeare in the state.

Thanks to a sparkling cast who deliver performances both bold and nuanced, dazzling technical design that truly enhances story amid a natural outdoor setting, this “Much Ado About Nothing” is something very special indeed.

Widely regarded as the great predecessor to the ubiquitous Rom-Com genre, Much Ado About Nothing tells the story of two sets of would-be lovers, whose respective fates are influenced by the manipulative community that surrounds them, “the only love Gods,” as one of ill intentioned among them flagrantly declares. Claudio is set to wed Hero until he falsely bears witness to her cheating on him with another man—a premeditated ruse by Don John and his henchmen that nearly kills her and destroys her family. Meanwhile, supremely clever, over-thinking, anti-romantics Benedick and Beatrice carry on a “skirmish of wit” as they ultimately “suffer love” for each other against their will thanks to the buttinskies around them who plant seeds of doubt and love in their minds.

So much of the plot unfolds because of eavesdropping and the otherwise perception of scenes both true and false, and Edward T. Morris’s gorgeous set with natural and Italianate flourishes, no fewer than 10 entrance and exit points, a balcony, a staircase, and a tile water feature center stage, creates the perfect conditions (in a most aesthetic way) for the shenanigans to play out. Director William Church moves the action throughout this space as well as into the audience and the “wings” in the Upton-Morley outdoor amphitheater with blocking that is more like exquisite choreography than mere stage movement. This Shakespeare is tremendously physical, as it must be for greatest accessibility, and no opportunity for physical comedy, especially, goes untaken.

Brent Wrobel’s lighting design works magic with the mystical lighting design of twilight as it turns to dusk. What goes largely unnoticed on the set’s pleasing pastel palette comes to life as night falls with lanterns full of fairy lights, wall sconces that change the mood for a wedding and party, and pops of color emerging from rooms offstage. It adds tremendously to the emotionality and overwhelming sensuality of the production.

Which, of course, comes largely from the way this clever script and its incomparable language in verse comes to fruition through the brilliance of the performances. There’s no small role here, and every actor truly plays his part to the hilt, with nary a dull spot in the bunch. Beatrice and Benedick didn’t get the memo that they are not the stars of this show (as it should be), and James Francis Ginty and Laura Mittelstaedt are glorious in their respective roles. He is charming and vivacious in the most appealing way, even when he’s being stupidly belligerent; she is clever beyond words and irresistible in her silly protestations. They are both terrifically physical and funny, though at times, the spirited look in their eyes and facial expressions do all the heavy lifting—and they make it look effortless.

David Montee is wonderful as the ridiculous Dogberry, the diligent and self-important policeman who wildly mispronounces words with arrogant flair. Luke Klein is a hoot as Verges, Dogberry’s whistle-blowing sidekick. It’s a tiny role he makes most memorable with a hilarious pipsqueak voice and unexpected sight gags such as a sideways walking squat while removing props. Again, it’s but one of many moments stretched to maximum humor that in lesser hands would simply be lost. And every one of the 17-member cast brings at least as much to his respective role with charm, grace, and terrific professionalism.

Which ultimately brings this delightful romantic comedy to its full potential, resulting in the most joyful celebration of love one could imagine. It’s a wonderful counterpoint to “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” the other offering in this year’s Shakespeare Festival, which thematically is also very critical of marriage, but leaves much more doubt about the state of love and relationships that this “Much Ado.” In this tremendous labor of love there’s no question that love rules, against all obstacle, in every possible way.

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