Everyone knows they’re crazy about each other. At least, everyone except Benedick and Beatrice, who are too busy cleverly ripping on each other to realize why they’re really so infatuated with each other. So their friends and kinfolk decide to help bring them together by separately tricking each of them into believing that the other has confessed to be madly in love. But whether or not that strategy will be successful becomes complicated when Beatrice’s cousin Hero is slandered on her wedding day by Benedick’s friend Claudio. There can be no love until the slander is resolved, even if it must be done by the sword.

Such is Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing, with Grossmont High School’s Foothiller Players staging it in their intimate theatre. Director Amity Ecker’s production uses every last inch of the space to great effect. Willie Schwartz’s cleverly used set is sandwiched on either side by audience seating. Along one wall is the front wall of the house, and through the middle is the courtyard that can easily be changed out to transform into a swank dining area (the synchronized crew throwing rose petals on the floor and snapping out tablecloths over tables all in unison). And the audience seats are used a bit as well, whether as townspeople to be interrogated by hilarious keystone cops, or by Benedick desperately trying to conceal himself as he listens in on gossipers describing how Beatrice has the hots for him.

Said Benedick is played by Andrew Erath, and he really gets the show hopping with his humor and passion for Beatrice. His monologue, delivered as the other characters are frozen in time, is superb and given with a confident ease as he drinks the frozen Beatrice’s champagne (which she’s a little confused by and not too happy about when his monologue is over and she notices her drink is gone). His confident ease becomes boyish delight when he hears the others baiting him with talk of Beatrice being in love with him, his desire to hear their gossip overwhelming his ability to hide very well from the gossipers, fumbling through the rows of audience members, sometimes looking to them to share in his joy. And when the gossip gets juicy enough, Andrew is sitting in the lap of a bemused audience member, rubbing the guy’s head as the gossip gets him excited to be in the arms of his Beatrice. Said Beatrice being played by Caitlin Steinmann, whose mocking of males and belittling of Benedick gets replaced by her own frantic attempts at sneaky eavesdropping. Both actors also do very well in the dramatic marriage scene, when an understandably angry Beatrice tells Benedick what he must do to win her hand, and a stunned Benedick struggles with the situation, and then promises it will be done.

Then there are the purely comedic characters. Byron Bennett is a comic genius as Dogberry, head of the keystone cops and kind of an ass, who is always accompanied closely by his hilariously intimidating sidekick Verges (Claudia Ethridge, who also resembles an angry Tina Fey, or a psychotic Sarah Palin). Together they make for a crime-fighting duo from which legends are made. They’re not afraid to challenge the audience with their prying flashlights, or hesitant to steal a chair at gunpoint from the audience in order to question the townsfolk (Dogberry slipping into the chair just before his poor witness sits down, ending up in his lap). And when the neurotic Dogberry gets really flustered (like if someone calls him, say, an ‘ass’), out comes his sock puppet who’s always on his side. Two fantastic and original comedians working as one who use voice, stares, body language, sound effects, and sock puppets in order to better serve and protect, aided always by their intrepid band of superhero watchmen.

The cast includes many other good performances. Lanae Klabunde is the sweet Hero eager for marriage to Claudio, with Matt Krahling and her helping making the wedding scene so tense. Bonnie Alexander is Leonata (instead of Leonato), a good-natured governor, and Sam Halgren is Don Pedro, the easygoing prince who can turn cold. They help trick Benedick about Beatrice with their gossip and amusing touches. While Hero and her close friend Ursula (Jordan Hunter) do the same for Beatrice, as well as the worldly and saucy Margaret (Cassie Kunze) who becomes an unwitting pawn in a game that leaves her uneasy and pale when the treachery begins to dawn on her. Such treachery brought on by Borachio (Greg Zoumaras) and conceived by a conniving Don John (played by villainous Nic Gunvaldson).

And if you have any doubts of his villainy, we get introduced to him with his face briefly illuminated in the glow of flame as he lights his cigarette to begin a scene. There’s a lot of smoking going on, along with snappy dressing, big band music, and sultry vocals from an old-time nightclub singer (Rhiana Bible as The Balthazar) who is always on hand to watch the tale unfold. All elements of the show being set in the 1940s with a film noir style to it, a nod to the spying that plays such a critical role during the tale, and a theme that works quite nicely for this fresh and entertaining production.

Performs March 11 - 21, 2009.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~
Leonata: Bonnie Alexander
Conrade: Clay Alexander
Dogberry: Byron Bennett
The Balthazar: Rhiana Bible
Benedick: Andrew Erath
Verges: Claudia Ethridge
Messenger: Samantha Garcia
Don John: Nic Gunvaldson
Don Pedro: Sam Halgren
Ursula: Jordan Hunter
Seacoal: Celeste Jacobson-Ingram
Hero: Lanae Klabunde
Claudio: Matt Krahling
Margaret: Cassie Kunze
Friar: Aimee Loach
Sexton: Rhiannon McGuire
Antonio: Doug Nau
Beatrice: Caitlin Steinmann
Watchman: Kirsten Yellen
Borachio: Greg Zoumaras

Director: Amity Ecker
Assistant Director: Nikki Bartlett
Technical Director/Set Designer/Lighting Designer: Willie Schwartz
Costume Designer: Tina Fogg
Property Master: Stina Schwebke
Sound Designer: Ray Azevedo


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