Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: 'Much Ado About Nothing'

Philly Shakespeare's production blends comedy with darker themes in this exuberant, joyous production.

Review: 'Much Ado About Nothing'


By Jim Rutter


“To suffer love.” This unusual line appears three times in quick order toward the end of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s fresh, exuberant production illuminates the Bard’s theme with a fullness and flourish.

Much of Much Ado centers on the unwilling affection building between Beatrice (Eleni Delopoulos) and Benedick (Chance Dean), a proud maid and professed bachelor trading jaded barbs about how they will never marry, especially not each other.

But this comedic confection conceals a bitter core in the budding romance between Claudio (Isaiah Ellis) and Hero (Lauren Sowa). While early endearment leaves each speechless, these tender, though tenuous first pangs give way to hidden jealousy that scant evidence easily inflames.

Domenick Scudera’s brilliant direction elucidates the duality between earnestness and fear, tenderness and the urge for self preservation. He whittles Shakespeare’s five-act text to two, cleaved for maximum impact between the lighthearted and darker elements of the text.

Delopoulos and Dean’s superb deadpan and machine gun delivery add ample effervescence, which the rest of the cast supports with clever performances of dance, song, slapstick and nuanced characterization (especially Eric Fan Wie’s Keystone Cop Dogberry).

The otherwise young cast initially causes concern; Shakespeare’s soldiers (redeployed to World War II in Brian Strachan’s smart costumes) have returned from war, and many of these look more prettified for a parlor than bruised by battle. But their deceptive innocence works to Scudera’s advantage, showing barbarity in inexperience tempered by the notion that easy forgiveness is something only afforded to the young or those young in affection.

Scudera starts and ends his staging with song, called for in the text, a bit awkward in this presentation. But one minor mishap cannot eclipse this production’s thorough reminder that at any stage of love, the hard gravel of suffering yields perennial blooms of joy.

Much Ado About Nothing. Presented through May 19 by the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, 2111 Sansom St. Tickets: $25 to $35. Information: 215-496-9722 or 

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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