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Better Than Shakespeare presents: Much Ado About Something

ensemble theatre · better than shakespeare · Ages 10+ · family friendly · world premiere · United States

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Review by GREG MACHLIN

June 14, 2014
tagged as: comedy · shakespeare · aliens · insane · success · music

My overall impression

This is the most gloriously insane and fanatically irreverent production of a Shakespeare play I’ve ever seen—and that’s a very good thing. Very few directors would have the guts to add an entire alien invasion framing device to a Shakespeare comedy, but I’ll be damned if Megan Kelly and Kate Grabeau’s adaptation doesn’t pull it off by being ludicrously unfaithful to the show and actually writing at least one new iambic pentameter monologue detailing a horrific alien saucer, delivered with smart frantic energy by Evan Smith as The Messenger (mostly called “Smith”), who carries the bulk of the alien subplot.

There are two benefits to this: 1) It’s an unbelievably audacious, risk-taking choice, exactly the sort of stuff we should be seeing more of at the Fringe; 2) it opens up the comedic possibilities enormously. Too often companies play it safe with Shakespeare, particularly with the comedies, which is probably the last thing he would’ve wanted.

The entire cast is game, and well-directed, but top acting honors must go to Arthur Keng, whose performance as Don John is unlike any Don John I—or anyone else—has ever seen. Suffice to say Keng’s Don John is under alien mind control for a good portion of the show—to say more would be to spoil— but he has to present another Shakespeare character from an entirely DIFFERENT play without the, let’s say, typical weapons an actor has in his arsenal. His performance alone is worth the price of admission.

Greg Nicollett’s top-notch, professional quality score dramatically enhances the proceedings and marks him as a composer to watch (he also translates for the aliens at multiple points.) Grabeau & Grabeau are fine a Beatrice and Benedict, as are a nerdy Seamus Sullivan and Giselle Gilbert as the mismatched Claudio and Hero, but the original text itself is almost beside the point when you have a fantastic Dogberry leading a defense of the human race and quoting several other Shakespeare plays. (I’m without my program, so I can’t single out the actors who played Dogberry, his female assistant Verges, or Don John’s assistant, who also ends up under the aliens’ control, but they’re all very good comedic performers.)

One could complain that the play doesn’t go far enough—Kelly’s talented enough that she could throw the whole damn thing out and go beyond the Rosencrantz & Guildenstern backstage maneuvers and just come up with a completely different ending, and Beatrice and Benedict are smart enough that they’d probably have something to say about the aliens at some point.

(Full disclosure: I am acquaintances with 3 of the people involved in this production, but primarily saw it because of how intrigued/skeptical I was of the synopsis.)

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