A Review of Mauckingbird Theatre Company's "Much Ado About Nothing"

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Cheryl Williams (Leonato), Erika Anselmo (Antonio), Cameron Slusser (Hero, seated), and Sean Thompson (Beatrice, standing) in Mauckingbird Theatre Company's "Much Ado About Nothing." Photo by Ian Paul Guzzone.

Ok, so I’ll be the first to admit that I’m always a tad bit weary when it comes to seeing any production of a Shakespeare play; however, this was a production that didn’t disappoint.  Mauckingbird’s queer retelling of one of Shakeseare’s most beloved comedies is both touching and quite a knee-slapper.

Just to give a quick recap for those unfamiliar: “Much Ado About Nothing” is a tale of divergent romantic entanglements.  On the one hand there is the naive and impulsive Hero and Claudio, while on the other is the back and forth, love-hate, rivalry of Beatrice and Benedick.  Rather than allowing everyone to simply get married and live happily ever after, the nefarious Don John rears his sinister grin and causes mayhem for the young lovers.  Throw in the themes of love, marriage, family, and honor, and there you have it!

Mauckingbird’s production boasts a lively cast that does well with the language of Shakespeare.  Nothing will kill the mood in a Shakespeare production quicker than the wrong kind of inflection and tone.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just think back to all the times you had to listen to someone monotonously read lines from “Romeo and Juliet” in high school.  Snorgasm.  In fact, I can only think of one time in this production where someone noticeably flubbed a line.  My Shakespeare is a little shakey, but there wasn’t a single time during the whole production in which I felt lost or unsure as to what was happening.  Bravo ladies and gents!

Matt Tallman and Sean Thompson, as Benedick and Beatrice respectively, really stole the show.  Both were just oozing with stage presence and really knew how to work the stage to their advantage.  The eavesdropping scenes were a laugh riot, and had the whole audience howling.  Not so secretly though, my personal favorite was Cheryl Williams in the role of Leonato, mother of Hero.  Her performance was spectacular and really showed her range as an actress.

Cheryl Williams as Leonato comforts Cameron Slusser as Hero, with LJ Norelli as a musician, in Mauckingbird Theatre Company's Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Ian Paul Guzzone.

About a littler more than halfway through the production the humor began to slack off a bit, but thanks to the performances of Will Poost and Philip Anthony Wilson (as the master of malapropism Constable Dogberry and his assistant Verges) the laughs kept coming.  Trust me, you’ll know when they’re coming.

I will say that Ben Lyle Lotka’s Don John was a little less sinister than I was hoping for, but still a good performance nonetheless (I’m always a little more partial towards the mustache twirling, Dick Dastardly kind of evil doing).  He is very well complimented by his henchman Borachio, played by Mitchell Bloom.  Together they make quite a pair.

Keep up the good work Mauckingbird Theatre Company!  Your commitment to putting on professional LGBT-themed theater is commendable.  In the past, Mauckingbird has put on an all-male version of Moliere’s “The Misanthrope” as well as a lesbian adaptation of  Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler,” among other shows.  This is definitely a theater company that I’m going to keep an eye on while living in Philly.  I would highly recommend this show to both the average theater goer as well as the avid Shakespeare fan.

The show runs now through August 26th (Wednesdays through Sundays) at the Off-Broad Street Theater at First Baptist Church, located at 1636 Sansom St. in Philadelphia.  Tickets are $25, with discounts for both seniors ($20) and students ($15).  For more information or to purchase tickets call the Mauckingbird Theatre Company box office at (215) 923-8909 or try visiting their website www.mauckingbird.org.

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