SDA’s ‘Much Ado’ gives audiences much to see

Students graced the stage with laughter, mischief and life in Shakespeare’s comedy classic.


Donna Leonata (Sonia Goswami, right) speaks to Hero (Michelle Jones Lee) and Claudio (Woohyun Suh) in the peaceful town of Messina. (Craig Schwartz)

Who knew Beyoncé and Shakespeare would work so well together?

Before the School of Dramatic Arts’ production of “Much Ado About Nothing” began Friday night, the vibes were already good. The medieval, “Bridgerton”-esque versions of iconic pop songs, notably Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love,” rang throughout Bing Theatre as the audience waited for the Shakespearean comedy to come to life before their eyes. Like the chosen pre-show songs, Shakespeare’s witty play about love and pride, set on the Italian island of Sicily in the 16th century, remains relevant to this day.

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Right off the bat, the audience was met with a gorgeous green scenic design by Bailey Youn, a junior majoring in theatrical design. Not only was the green pleasing to the eyes, but it also properly immersed the audience in the calm and peaceful town of Messina, home to loving mother Donna Leonata — played by Sonia Goswami, a graduate student studying theatre with an emphasis in acting.

In “Much Ado,” all is right in the world with Donna Leonata and the women living under her roof until they’re visited by the boyish and charming soldiers of the stern Don Pedro — played by Quaz Degraft, a graduate student studying theatre with an emphasis in acting. It was only then that the norm was disrupted and the comedy ensued.

As with many of Shakespeare’s comedies, contemporary productions can only get away with relying on the naturally clever dialogue between the characters. Especially in an age where Shakespearean language is not commonly comprehensible by the general public unless they specifically studied his works in high school English classes, productions must go beyond the text to keep an audience engaged. Happily, the actors did just that.

Standout characters included the fiery Beatrice — played by Briana James, a graduate student studying theatre with an emphasis in acting — and the equally-as-arrogant Benedick — played by Vincent Williams, a graduate student studying theatre with an emphasis in acting. Both actors aptly portrayed the down-to-earth nature of stubborn, lovesick individuals who would rather die than have the other find out about their affections.

Aside from their impassioned exchanges of seeming distaste for each other, nothing beat the physical comedy brought in to highlight the awkwardness at the core of their characters. Director and adjunct lecturer Lee Chemel entertainingly made this point in the first act, implementing the comical choice of having Beatrice and Benedick attempt to hide in plain sight behind bushes and potted trees, unbeknownst to the fact that the people they’re hiding from know they could hear their planted conversations.

Despite the many caricatures the audience has to keep up with, the actors’ teamwork as a duo successfully simplified the process. The pairing of the dashing Claudio — played by Woohyun Suh, a senior majoring in theatre with an emphasis in acting — and the sweet Hero — played by Michelle Jones Lee, a graduate student studying theatre with an emphasis in acting — was reminiscent of Shakespeare’s more infamous couple, Romeo and Juliet, especially with Hero’s faked death in the second act. 

While the fragile romance between Claudio and Hero was the main plot device that drove the entire story forward including Beatrice and Benedick’s side romance, one specific duo stole the show with its introduction at the beginning of the second act.

The hilarious constables of the night watch, Dogberry — played by Diego Casasnovas-Torres, a graduate student studying theatre with an emphasis in acting — and Verges — played by Casey Landman, a graduate student studying theatre with an emphasis in acting — never had a dull moment on stage. Casasnovas-Torres and Landman were the perfect blend of chaotic energy that filled the theater with an incandescent light as a result of the pair’s chemistry and quirky character choices. 

Being a comedy, the show did not have a terrifying villain or any overt symbol of darkness and evil meant to corrupt our beloved characters and send them down a tragic path. That doesn’t mean the audience doesn’t get an immoral yet memorable addition to the story with Don John — played by Matthew Abatti, a graduate student studying theatre with an emphasis in acting. Even with just a few appearances sprinkled throughout the show, Abatti milked every moment and commanded the stage with a presence that matched the foreboding quality of the musical transition that took place with his entrances. 

Filled with frivolous miscommunication and hijinks between the characters based on Don John’s master lie — stating that Hero was unfaithful to Claudio so they do not go through with their marriage — the show culminated in a final wedding sequence that cleanly tied up all of the plot’s loose ends. By the end, the audience could tell that the cast had just been having an enjoyable time. While fully immersed in their characters’ diverse identities, at the end of the day, the actors did not lose the unseriousness of Shakespeare’s comedy, keeping it, overall, a lighthearted experience.

“Much Ado About Nothing” will be performed Thursday, Feb. 22 through Sunday, Feb. 25 at Bing Theatre.

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