PLEASANT GROVE — Thinking back on my Saturday night at Discovery Park, I realize now that my expectations were hinging on unrealistically high for Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. I have had consistently wonderful experiences with Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s productions, and Much Ado About Nothing is an easy favorite for me among comedies. But with all my high blown expectations, here’s the thing that still amazes me: Grassroots Shakespeare Company surpassed and dwarfed anything I could have anticipated. The show was fantastic, and I would leap at the chance to see it again.
The company operates Renaissance-style: sans director, with minimal rehearsal time, a bare bones set, and makeshift costumes and props. And in the face of all these obstacles, they throw together a joyous evening. Before the play began, some of the cast members mingled with the audience while others treated the crowd to rousing music via such media as accordion, melodica, djembe, slide whistle, and tambourine. Happily, the cast were just as talented musically as they soon proved to be theatrically, and they set the perfect mood for a jovially informal evening.
In the reader isn’t familiar with the basic plot of Much Ado About Nothing, here goes: Don Pedro (Trevor Christensen) and his soldiers are fresh from glorious campaigning and stop in to visit the governor of Messina, Leonato (Bianca Morrison Dillard). Just as a Shakespearean comedy would have it, Leonato happens to have a beautiful and even-tempered daughter, Hero (Kayla Crystal Smith), as well as a beautiful and sharp-tempered niece, Beatrice (Ronnie Andersen Stringfellow). Within minutes of their arrival, the handsome young soldier Claudio (James Buonous) falls head-over-heels for Hero, and the stubbornly avowed bachelor Benedick (Eric Geels) engages in a battle of wits with Beatrice. The comedy is headed full-speed toward a happy ending when a plot-diverting conflict ensues. Don Pedro’s brother, Don John (Topher Rasmussen) is a self-proclaimed villain who gets off on self-determined villainy, with the assistance of his loyal henchmen Conrad (Jessamyn Victoria Svensson) and Borachio (Cameron Thredgold). Toss into the mix Messina’s buffoonish chief of police (Davey Morrison Dillard) with his equally qualified deputy (Steven Pond), and you’ve got comedy!
Grassroots Shakespeare Company are masters of milking all the humor out of Shakespeare’s language and the building on it with fast-paced staging, audience interaction, and anachronistic quips. One of my favorite gimmicks in this play was the relationship between Conrad and Don John. In keeping with his portrayal of Don John as a very nerdy and whiney villain, Rasmussen insisted that his henchman Conrad piggy-back him about the stage. Svensson’s earnest devotion as Conrad, and Rasmussen’s sulky villainy as Don John paired together with hilarious synergy, and I was always thrilled to see them on stage together.
Stringfellow and Geels brought such humor and chemistry to the parts of Beatrice and Benedick that both parts felt completely fresh, even for though I had seen countless versions of Much Ado About Nothing before. In addition to portraying the usual unabashedly infatuated couple one expects from Hero and Claudio, Smith and Buonous sneaked just enough comedy into their roles to make them novel while still feeling genuine.
Davey Morrison Dillard infused his police chief Dogwood with an impish brand of physical humor, and his role was perfectly complemented by Pond’s bumbling enthusiasm as deputy. Of all the minor roles, though, Levi Brown’s Margaret was the one I most appreciated. Margaret is usually more of a throw-away character, a prop for the rest of the action. But Brown’s novel portrayal had me giddy with laughter. Truly, I couldn’t help wanting him on stage as much as possible.
Beyond the fantastic acting, Grassroots Shakespeare Company added the extra touch of using music to drive the story. Ellen Nicole Allen, Karyn Leigh Allen, and Dominic Zappala provided mood-setting accompaniment on guitar, accordion, and even more instruments than I could keep track of. The music always fit the scene at hand and often added an extra dimension of humor to push forward play’s momentum.
I can’t praise Grassroots Shakespeare Company enough for their production of Much Ado About Nothing. Simply put, I loved it. Whether or not you are a committed Shakespeare fan or someone who simply enjoys laughing, this show is for you. Now, why are you still reading this review? Open your calendar now and pencil, no pen, in your plans to see them!