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Theater review: Pioneer Theatre Company’s “Much Ado About Nothing”

by on February 24, 2014
Benedick (T. Ryder Smith) and Beatrice (Rebecca Watson)

Benedick (T. Ryder Smith) and Beatrice (Rebecca Watson)

There are those who accuse fans of The Bard for constantly making much ado about William Shakespeare’s works, but those folks are missing out, especially when the playwright delves into comedy.

Case in point: Pioneer Theatre Company’s new production of Much Ado About Nothing, one of Shakespeare’s most recognizable, oft-performed comedies. Even if you’re intimately familiar with Much Ado, there is plenty to love in this creative adaptation by director Matt August, from several excellent performances and new twists on old dialogue, to the stunning set design and costumes.

August sets the tale in the late Middle Ages, and the music by composer Scott Killian and ornate costumes by Elizabeth Caitlin Ward–a veteran of projects around the globe, including the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics–immediately evoke the era. A striking, sparse set of metal, candles and flowing fabrics makes for an engaging space for characters adorned in armor, fur and gauzy robes to tell their story.

The story remains a winning one–all the more so in the capable hands of August’s case. Benedick (T. Ryder Smith) and Beatrice (Rebecca Watson) jab and jive through numerous bouts of verbal sparring as the two jaded non-romantics set up as juxtaposition to the passionate youngsters Claudio (Terrell Donnell Sledge) and Hero (Ashley Wickett). Smith and Watson often steal the scene whenever they are on stage, delivering confident performances. Sledge was a bit more reticent in running through Shakespeare’s dialogue, but Wickett picked up the slack in that coupling.

Among the other noteworthy performances are John Ahlin as Leonato, Hero’s father, David Manis as Don Pedro, the returning military commander who enjoys a bit of fun at Benedick’s expense, and Max Robinson as Dogberry, the town constable who in this version leads a band of children.

The mix of stinging one-liners, mistaken identities and comedic comeuppances, while familiar, come through as fresh in Pioneer’s production. August’s gamble on placing his Much Ado in the Middle Ages pays off. For both audience and performers, the twist makes the show feel new–no easy task with such well-worn source material.

Much Ado About Nothing runs Mondays through Saturdays until March 8. For showtimes, tickets and more information, visit the Pioneer Theatre Company website. Photos by Alexander Weisman, courtesy of Pioneer Theatre Company.

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