Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review: Mauckingbird Theatre Company's "Much Ado About Nothing"

Changing and adapting the Bard's works is always risky. For one thing, the Shakespeare purists won't be pleased (but they never are). The tone of the play may shift so much that the entire production is an unrecognizable mess.

Luckily, this is not the case at all with Mauckingbird Theatre Company's new gender-bending production of Much Ado About Nothing.

In this new production, the genders of the main female love interests (Beatrice, Hero, and Ursula) and the family patriarchs (Leonato and Antonio) are switched. Aside from some conveniently changed pronouns, the original text remains intact. The play takes on the themes of jealousy, wit, and honor as they pertain to romantic relationships with a dash of camp and a great deal of heart.

The members of this young cast, many of whom are still in college, are incredibly talented and are definitely the highlight of this production. Sean Thompson plays Beatrice with equal parts sass and warmth that would make the Bard himself proud. Griffin Back plays Claudio, a young count in love with Hero, and is one to look out for in the Philadelphia theatre scene in the coming years. Cheryl Williams has the audience question their idea of authority and gender in her strong portrayal of Leonato, the governor of Messina. Will Poost and Philip Anthony Wilson make great comic turns as the crime-fighting constable Dogberry and his loyal sidekick Verges respectively.

One of the best things about this production of Much Ado is that it doesn’t treat the story as some big political statement just because it features homosexual relationships. Director Peter Reynolds achieves his goal of creating the gay romantic comedy he always dreamed of. It is sweet and simple and paints a picture of a society where homosexual relationships are treated the same way as heterosexual relationships. And that is definitely something to strive for.

Much Ado About Nothing runs through August 26 at the Off-Broad Street Theatre at First Baptist Church, 1636 Sansom St. Tickets are $15 with a valid student ID. For more information, check out mauckingbird.org.

*Full disclosure: I am currently in a production for the Philly Fringe with Will Poost and have worked with Lindsay Mauck, co-founder of Mauckingbird Theatre Company.

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