WASHINGTON, DC – I often hear complaints from lovers of Shakespeare’s works that they only want to see what they refer to as “classic Shakespeare” productions (familiar to some for bellowing actors in pantaloons). I try my darndest to convince them that the whole point of a modern interpretation is to show how wonderfully relevant Shakespeare’s works are to contemporary life. In Director Simon Godwin’s spin on the comedy classic Much Ado About Nothing he strips it to its very bones and shows us how Shakespeare squares up to modern life.
Plopping it down onto a live news set, convincingly named SNN for the Shakespeare News Network, Godwin’s vision mirrors the contemporary newscasts from the you-know-who cable news channel. His drop-dead irreverent sendup pokes cable newscasters and their ilk with a sharp stick in the eye. It yanks them off their self-important throne with vigor. And how refreshing is that?
Godwin inserts snippets from other Shakespeare plays into the “broadcasts”. They come at you so fast and so often you need to pay rapt attention to catch the delicious wordplay nuggets. All through the play I knew I wanted to see it again to catch some of the references I could have missed.
From their white leather and chrome swivel chairs at a large glass console table, co-anchors Benedick (Rick Holmes) and Beatrice (Kate Jennings Grant) spar relentlessly. Backgrounded by photo-murals depicting cherry blossoms and, of course, the Washington Monument, much mutual loathing ensues between the two rivals. A spiral staircase corkscrews to a second story control booth where it appears (falsely) that Hero’s reputation has been sullied by hot sex with another man. Ten TV screens flank the sides of the stage broadcasting Benedict’s arrest by a hapless security force who fits out the misogynist cad with an ankle tracker.
Godwin adds schtick, cribs lines from other Shakespeare plays and injects the choreography with fabulosity – a disco party with a conga line led by a Lizzo lookalike in a turquoise bustier? Why, yes! Scenes are reimagined and flipped on their heads. A revolving stage allows for a quick change of scenery. Look for Puck to deliver a weather broadcast, “Now is the winter of our discontent.”, along with news reports that spoof some of The Bard’s most dramatic battles. One report features Cleopatra, others murder and mayhem from Shakespeare’s classic dramas. By now we’re rolling in the aisles.
Props range from bags of Cheetos and golf balls to a madcap scene in which Benedict gets hosed by a fire hydrant and another where Beatrice escapes notice by leaping headfirst into a janitor’s cart. It’s crazy fun, topsy-turvy and so infectious you’ll find yourself laughing like the proverbial hyena.
Comedy at its finest. For God’s sake, go!!!
An extraordinary cast includes Edward Gero as Leonato; Justin Adams as Don John; Carlo Albán as Don Pedro; David Bishins as Verges; Sarah Corey as Ursula; Michael Kevin Darnall as Borachio; Nehassaiu deGannes as Sister Francis; Paul Deo, Jr. as Claudio; Nicole King as Hero; Dina Thomas as Margaret; Quinn M. Johnson as Hugh Oatcake; Terrance Fleming as Cop; Dave Quay as Dogberry; Raven Lorraine as Belle Shazar/Georgina Seacoal.
Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge; Costume Design by Evie Gurney; Lighting Design by Donald Holder; Sound Design by Fan Zhang; Composer, Michael Bruce; Dramaturg, Emily Burns; Choreographer & Intimacy Consultant, Jesse Kovarsky; Fight Consultant, Lorraine Ressegger-Slone.
Through December 11th at Harman Hall, 610 F Street, NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org or call the box office at 202 547-1122.