The Play: Much Ado about Nothing.
Directed by: Asae Dean, for the Portland Actors Ensemble
Genre & Setting: We have already encountered Much Ado About Nothing twice before, once in Ken Branaugh’s exuberant funfest and again in a typically drab BBC adaptation. This time it was an in-the-park performance on a lovely summer day. More exactly, it was performed on the campus green of Reed College, with that intellectual institution’s stately Eliot Hall forming an appropriately old-worldy background. The genre is “one of the comedies that are hard to remember the title to,” with some distasteful unpleasantness toward the end.
The Gist, which will obviously involve spoilers: This is the one where everybody has to stage an intervention to get Beatrice and Benedick hooked up, and where poor little Hero gets humiliated at the alter after that bastard Don John slanders her, because her fiancé Claudio is dumber than dirt and insufficiently imaginative to ask even the simplest of questions.
The Adaptation: The Portland Actors Ensemble puts on a good show, so there was a large crowd. We were stuck a long ways from the stage at a right angle to the action, but got our fair share of entertainment just the same. The “stage” was just a patch of the lawn with a few trellises set up as entry and exit points. You had to pretend you didn’t see the “offstage” actors, which was no problem whatsoever and added a kind of spontaneous charm to the proceedings.
In these circumstances, I pretty much focused on and enjoyed the jolly first half, and then kind of let myself drift and enjoy being out for the afternoon in the second half. It was nice.
I’m used to finding the musical intervals in Shakespeare pretty embarrassing, but a highlight of this performance was the songs. The “Hey Nonny Nonny” business that the play starts was especially great, belted out by a glorious alto singer whose name I wish I had caught, as she isn’t identified in the program. Man, she had pipes.
Oh, the other exciting moment came when I read in the program that the title of the play is to be read as a pun that could mean much ado about “noting,” which is to say overhearing, of which there is a great deal in this play. This discovery yields the exciting possibility that I may eventually be able to associate the action of this play correctly with its name!
Prognosis: I miss summer already, don’t you?