At its best, community theater plunges heart-first into the vexing aspects of performance. The cast and crew bring primarily their passion, often unmediated by the wiles and formulae that training can inculcate, finding energies in their characters seasoned professionals miss. The performers are often more concerned with the magic of ***image1***storytelling itself and with the seductive power that theater carries in its most direct presentation. This immediacy and joy is on display in The Arden Players' production of Much Ado About Nothing.
Not to say that several company members don't have extensive backgrounds. Director Deborah Dennison-whose version of Beatrice is fittingly brittle yet passionate-has taught acting, voice and movement at the Columbia University Graduate School of the Arts. Kerry Kehoe, who brings range, energy and comic timing to the role of Benedick, has played at Dublin's Gate and the Abbey Theater as well as the Cambridge Repertory Company. Several other cast members bring years of experience in both local and professional theater into this production. But the overall impression is one of collective joy in being part of a community engaged in an ambitious creative enterprise.
For those rusty in their Shakespeare: The plot concerns the union in matrimony of two couples, one of which (Beatrice and Benedick) outwardly loathes each other, the other of which (Hero and Claudio) have fallen in love at first sight. Don John, just because he's evil, sets about to muck up Hero and Claudio's wedding by creating a false scene in which it seems Hero is macking on a "lewd fellow," Borachio (played with verve, humor and spark by David McConnell). Claudio (Grant Hicks) rejects Hero (Corina Sugarman) at the altar ("she has known the heat of a luxurious bed!"), and Friar Francis (whose piety yet shrewdness is captured perfectly by Larry Lee) intervenes with a strange plan intended to save the day. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say, this is a comedy and there's dancing at the end, even before the obligatory matrimony.
Much Ado About Nothing is hailed by many as Shakespeare's finest comedy, a stripped-down hot rod of a story delivered with unsurpassed wit and meaty main and supporting roles. Dogberry (played here by local veteran actor Paul Walsky), for example, is one of those smaller Shakespearean roles ***image2***vast enough to transform the entire second act. The cynical repartee volleyed between self-proclaimed anti-love stalwarts Benedick and Beatrice is contrasted with the callow, overly earnest Claudio and Hero. As befits a Shakespeare play, the villain-bastard Don John (played by an archly sour and vicious Argos MacCallum) is all villain. Don Pedro (Michael Beauchamp, whose resonant singing voice is highlighted to excellent effect) is magnanimous, reconciled not only to his brother Don John but also to whatever else might happen. As with other Shakespeare scripts, the complications arise due to misperception followed by instant judgment.
How fitting for The Arden Players to create together an ensemble sense of this comedy, wherein the supporting roles are as important as the leads. Ultimately, this is a comedy about the machinations of community in all of its good intentions, tricky plans and moderating, self-correcting energies. There are some inevitable glitches that come with such a headlong charge at a Shakespeare comedy, including lines delivered without their inherent sense, opportunities for humor and pathos missed and too many awkward set changes. But the key elements of successful, entertaining community theater are in place, highlighting both the humanity and spirit of a highly challenging classic.