Just some short thoughts about Henley Street's third production of its maiden season, "Much Ado About Nothing".... Have you ever gone to a concert and sat in the nosebleeds and asked yourself why you even bothered to go because even with a jumbotron you felt like the only people really having a good time were on the front few rows? That is kind of how I felt last night at "Much Ado".
The concept of the show is to bring Shakespeare to the audiences level by having the players in modern dress, keeping the house lights on, arranging the seats so that much of the action is at audience floor level and have the players intermingle with the audience a great deal. This concept is not new as we experience this presentation style often at Richmond Shakespeare's productions. But Henley Streets version was a little over directed and often seemed to -at times- involve the audience just to involve the audience. There was a little too much touchy feely with front row audience members and some overdone crawling around on the floor between the first and second rows during scenes in which Benedick then Beatrice are being fooled to believe that the one loves the other and vice verse. But maybe I was just jealous because I was sitting in the back row and nobody paid any attention to me or crawled under my chair.
Other than that, I found this to be the best Henley Street production so far. There was lots of energy- and I mean energy like cut-these-people-off-the-Starbucks energy. But it was fun and it worked becuase Jackie Jones grounded the show with her fabulous version of the evil Don Jon offering the cortrect contrast to everyone else's Tom Foolery. She was a hundred times better than Keanu Reeves who played Don Jon in the Kenneth Branaugh film version.
The cast seemed truly comfortable this performance and confident. It was a pleasure to watch some HS regulars like Michael Sater relax and have some fun on stage for a change. Sater is quite funny as the drunk Borachio. I have to say this though - Michael, did anyone ever tell you that with hair cut you look a lot like a brown eyed James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus in "Narnia"? It's a complement- he is totally hot right now.
Dean Knight is gifted as Dogberry, Master Constable of Messina. He is blessed with a dynamic voice and shares his gift graciously with the audience. He has a great feel for comedy and I look forward to seeing him in future productions.
There is good chemistry between Billy Finn's Benedick and Suzanne Ankrum's Beatrice- a must to pull of this show. Kerry McGee does a good job as Hero but her performance did not offer any understanding as to why Hero accepts Claudio after he disses her so badly in front of everyone at their wedding - what a royal jerk! But that is most likely my own issue and not a fault with her performance.
It is really a joy to watch this company grow. This production is well worth the ticket price but you only have one more weekend to catch it. But for the best experience sit in the front two rows.
Note to families: There were kids in the audience that were about fifth grade age and they were having a blast. This could be a good occaision to expose your kids to Shakespeare and to local theatre outside of Theatre IV.
For more info go to: www.henleystreettheatre.org.