I couldn't resist, after how deeply moving Southwest Shakespeare's production of Hamlet was, to follow up with their other Winterfest play, Much Ado About Nothing. True, the chances were that I would still prefer Hamlet because I generally prefer the tragedies to the comedies and because I am more familiar with Hamlet than with Much Ado. Still, as Shakespeare's comedies go, Much Ado is a fun one.
Director Tracy Liz Miller chose to set the play in the WWII era, complete with period-style singing throughout. All of this adds a lighthearted feel to the production. Whereas some versions might play more on the drama and emphasize Hero's victimization, if you will, and Don John's evil in a much more tragic way, this production aims not to tear at heartstrings. That was for Hamlet. Instead, Much Ado as a companion piece is the brighter piece.
The message, then, seems to say more that we each have the power of reaction. Claudio chose to believe the lies formed against Hero--and that caused both of them pain. Benedick and Beatrice chose to believe the lies they were fed about each other's love--and that led them to fall in love. I suppose this means that we're all susceptible to lies, but what do we do when we then learn the truth? And what do the liars do? Borachio seemed genuinely to regret the part he played in promoting lies, and by his regret he was able to confess the truth and reunite Hero and Claudio. He and Claudio were both able to make amends for the ill they did to Hero.
Many of the same actors were in both Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing. My favorite remains William Wilson; instead of Hamlet, here he played Borachio and Friar Frances. He had all the audience laughing with his first lines as Borachio and brought, once again, both comedy and seriousness to Friar Frances. In fact, because of his excellent line delivery (he can give such weight to every word), it was Friar Frances who brought in the lines to give meaning and context to the events of the play.
Melody Knudson returned as the gentle Hero, standing in contrast to her impassioned Ophelia. Andy Kahoon played not this time her brother but her lover, Claudio, which was an interestingly similar role. Jordan Letson and Cisco Saavedra played the warriors at wit turned lovers Beatrice and Benedick, adding plenty of visual comedy to accompany the wit. One of my favorite moments was when Benedick rose from his hiding place (overhearing the others talk about how much Beatrice supposedly loved him) with the table legs still stuck to him and began, the tabletop against his back, his reaction speech.
Yes, I admit, I enjoyed the intense drama and soul-searching of Hamlet more than the lighthearted fun of Much Ado About Nothing. But I like how the two worked as companion pieces. One dark and one light. One more poetic and one more straightforward. One devastatingly deep and one just deep enough for an evening's entertainment. We all had a good time watching this play.