By Sophia Monastra
I love Shakespeare.
I know, that instantly categorizes me as a nerd, but his play “Much Ado About Nothing” encapsulates much of what I love about the bard: witty banter, clever wordplay, weddings, comic relief characters, humorous miscommunication, horrible miscommunication and a practical demonstration of the benefits of faking your own death.
One of the unique aspects of Shakespeare productions is the fact that the plays aren’t bound to specific time periods, making adaptations based on different eras and locations common. Cedarville’s 2023 production of “Much Ado” is set in regency-era Italy. As Director Stacy Stratton put it, “We’re not going for historically accurate, we’re going for historically influenced. The goal was to have a thread of modern woven in, in different ways, in different places, so if we had stuck to historical accuracy, it would have been more confusing to the audience.”
The most noticeable aspect of the staging is the reduced seating. “Much Ado About Nothing” is produced in a black box theater format, which means that seating is closer and more limited than in a traditional theater. The seats also surround the stage from three sides, meaning that the actors must keep in mind how their gestures and body language come across in 270 degrees. Not only does it allow students to have different experiences with staging, but it also opens challenges.
Shakespeare’s continued popularity is due to how timely his themes remain. “Much Ado” focuses on gender dynamics, which is highlighted by certain characters being changed. The most noteworthy change is that Hero’s father Leonato has been changed to her mother, Leonata–a deliberate change to emphasize the themes of gender solidarity. Likewise, the characters of Dogberry and the Watch are changed to a team of women, a choice that highlights the evolving role and value of women, both in Shakespeare’s day and in modern times.
Speaking of modern audiences, the actors conveyed the meaning (and humor) of the old text well. Beatrice (Farrah Rawlings) and Benedick (Samuel Acosta) were played with the snap and sparkle of a pair of exes determined to snark at each other for eternity. Likewise, Don Jon (played by Josiah Kareck) was played with a blend of angry monotone and mustache-twirling scheming. The actors took full advantage of the close quarters of the black box theater, interacting with (and among) the audience. Likewise, the multiple levels and entrances to the set served both practical and comedic purposes.
While the play was shortened, character and scene cuts were well managed and kept both the spirit–and hilarious dialogue–of the full show in a more child (and college student) friendly length.
In all, how would Cedarville’s production of Much Ado About Nothing best be summed up? Unlike Beatrice’s declaration, “I was born to speak all mirth and no matter,” Much Ado manages to both speak mirth and declare matter to a modern audience.
Sophia Monastra is a freshman professional writing and information design major and writer for Cedars’ Arts and Entertainment section. She lives in mortal fear of longboards and enjoys reading comics, writing fiction, and experiencing deep emotions about teenage mutant turtles.
Image courtesy of the CedarvilleTheatre department