PTC puts a refreshing twist on ‘Much Ado’

T. Ryder Smith and Rebecca Watson star in Pioneer Theatre
Company’s production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Photo courtesy of Alexander Weisman.

Alex Weisman

T. Ryder Smith and Rebecca Watson star in Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Photo courtesy of Alexander Weisman.

T. Ryder Smith and Rebecca Watson star in Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Photo courtesy of Alexander Weisman.
T. Ryder Smith and Rebecca Watson star in Pioneer Theatre
Company’s production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Photo courtesy of Alexander Weisman.
Thanks to the hilarious battle of wits between Benedick and Beatrice and the overabundance of rumor-filled lines, “Much Ado About Nothing” has become one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies. To no surprise, companies have performed the story many times over. Though some may call it tiresome, Pioneer Theatre Company has managed to rework the play in a creative way.
“There is always going to be something special and unique about each individual actor and what they bring to a role,” said Ashley Wickett, who plays Hero. “These words have been recited and spoken so many times, but what I find [in Hero] is going to be different than what any other actor has found.”
Recreating the world of Shakespeare’s familiar characters requires a lot of time and imagination, and director Matt August accomplished such a feat with a fantastical interpretation and a wonderfully talented cast.
When the curtains of “Much Ado About Nothing” open, costume designer Elizabeth Caitlin Ward’s wardrobe immediately transports viewers to medieval times. For the first scene, John Ahlin (Leonato) and Terence Goodman (Antonio) wear animal pelts, and Wickett dons a unique headpiece made of long and twisted horns. The lords enter the scene in chain mail and armor, while the ladies are bedecked in flowing gowns made of bright teal and yellow fabrics.
Ward has designed costumes for productions all over the world, including the closing ceremony for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. The costumes for “Much Ado About Nothing” are whimsical and mesmerizing and give the play an aesthetic appeal.
“Matt August has created a world that is bold and fantastical, magical and regal. When he mentioned that his inspiration was ‘Game of Thrones’ meets Disney princesses, I knew this was going to be exciting and different,” Wickett said.
Placing characters in the Middle Ages works well for a play concerned with chivalry, virtuosity and monarchial power. The importance of these virtues are heightened by the setting, costumes and, most importantly, the characters’ actions.
An old adage claims, ‘There is a thin line between love and hate.’ No fictional couple proves this better than Benedick and Beatrice. At first, the two swear they will never marry, and they take every opportunity to hurl verbal barbs at one another — of course, these insults only mask their true feelings.
T. Ryder Smith, who plays Benedick, delivers an entertaining performance brimming with good-humored sarcasm and hyperbolic speeches. The scene where Benedick overhears Leonato, Don Pedro and Claudio discussing Beatrice’s rumored love is one of the funniest in the play. Leonato’s attempt to play it cool encourages laughter from the audience, and the scene ultimately ends with Benedick hiding in plain sight under a bench.
From accurate portrayals of the play’s male personalities to the mesmerizing renditions of their female counterparts, PTC showcases a talented cast. Rebecca Watson (Beatrice) brings to life the play’s most complex character. Watson’s version of Beatrice is not just cynical and feisty, but she also lets Beatrice’s fear of looking like a lovesick fool shine through. This balance of strength and vulnerability is difficult to maintain, and Watson manages it with grace.
Max Robinson, a veteran actor at the Pioneer Theatre Company, is sure to earn applause for his hysterical role as Dogberry, the self-proclaimed master constable.
While “Much Ado About Nothing” is a play ultimately about love, there is also a strong emphasis on rumors and misunderstandings. For example, Don Pedro disguises himself in order to woo Hero in Claudio’s name, Hero is almost ruined by a falsity and both Benedick and Beatrice fall in love because their friends stretch the truth.
“Loving is one of the scariest things we do. We spend lifetimes learning how to protect ourselves from pain. [I think] that the disguises and rumors make taking the risk seem a little safer,” said Terrell Donnell Sledge, the actor playing Claudio.
The Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing” runs through March 8.
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