Much Ado About Everything

An Open Letter to the Shakespeare Tavern Cast and Crew of Much Ado About Nothing

I wish I were a count in Florence, perhaps a Medici (although their life style may have been a bit too full of espionage and intrigue for the likes of me).  If I were a count—or countess, I suppose—I could lavish funds and favors and general wealthiness on the artists of my choosing, that they may practice their art in prosperity and prestige.

However, in the absence of any ducal status and all that that entails, I am left with mere words of praise.  May they bring prosperity and prestige in their train somehow.

open handTo Benedict (Andrew Houchins): You actually made me like this character!  Before your performance, I didn’t really ever believe in Benedict’s transformation.  There was always a hint of irony in the players, a refusal to give themselves wholly over to the fact that Benedict embraced love—which refusal betrayed their belief that love weakens a hero’s temperament or dilutes his better qualities.   It’s as if the many actors that have played Benedict were so excited about the role, that they built up an aura of coolness about him that was impenetrable—as if to say, “I am playing a man in love, but only because he’s the hero, and that’s me.”  But you understood Benedict and introduced him to me in his true self: a strong man who is all the stronger for laying down his arms when he discovered a force greater than perpetual self-defense.  Benedict only gains heroism as the play progresses because he tethers his strength those who are weak and layers nobility upon his skills by employing them in the service of others.  And you accomplished this trajectory with verisimilitude by allowing Benedict to be a bit ridiculous when he plays the part of a serious soldier and entirely serious when he invests in the role of a lover, which people untouched by love view as ridiculous.  The awkwardly funny laugh, the sputtering tantrums, the quiet tension when Beatrice shared the stage—it all added up to a fascinating new vision of manliness.  Shakespeare’s portrayal of masculinity drifted too near the tyrant in Taming of the Shrew and too near the effeminate in Twelfth Night; but you’ve finally proven that he worked out the simultaneous giddiness and grandeur of humanity in Benedict.  I thank you.

to weepTo Beatrice (Erin Considine): Finally a heroine who’s real!  Beatrice has long been savored as a remarkable female role, but, just as in the case of Benedict, the actresses too often delight in the quick wit and forget to wound that goads her into such obstinate deflection of affection.  Your choice to let her weep—sincerely and utterly—gave such depth to her soul.  And when you had finished tongue-lashing Benedict, you retreated to the side of the stage with an expression of pain and confusion.  That is exactly what many women feel when they shore themselves up with wit; they fear anything less sharp would make them too vulnerable and anything more sincere would make them sentimental or negligible.  But all the while, they wish they could meet their companions on the security footing of mutual help and admiration.  Beatrice’s character reminds me much of the modern push-and-pull of expressing femininity—many times we wish to be a ‘man’ and regret that we must die grieving as a ‘woman.’  Or, in being a ‘man’ of action and arms, we sever the tight human bond that makes grieving worth the price.  Watching your Beatrice interact with Benedict brought sharp clarity to the layers of one of Shakespeare’s most mature–and therefore interesting and inspiring–women.  I thank you.

swordTo Don Pedro (Matt Nitchie): I confess I’ve always dislike Don Pedro—until now.  He seemed too cocky, too proud, too meddling, and too rash.  I’ve always read his proposal to Beatrice as self-congratulatory, the kind of offer that someone makes simply because they can, because no one expects their success, and because they are secretly self-assured they will win.  But last night you made me believe Don Pedro for the first time!  To see him as a sincere and noble person whose honor runs hot and whose purposes are as sure as they are swift—what a treat!  It lends an entirely new depth to the ensemble surrounding Beatrice and Benedict, and I was truly sad when Beatrice rejected him.  But, at the same time, she was right: he is too costly for everyday wear.  It’s almost as if Shakespeare could have written Don Pedro as the hero but decided that audiences would think him too good to be true.  Well, I think he is truly that good.  I thank you.

While I could go on at length all the way down the cast list, for the sake of my readers, I’ll confine my remarks to a few closing comments.  I’m not enough of an uber-geek to trace with scintillating brillance all of Shakespeare’s progressions throughout the course of his canon.  But! I must say that Much Ado About Nothing really packs a wallop.  Shakespeare uses a lot of finesse in this play to develop the themes that he draws with broader strokes, almost caricature, in his earlier works.  Here he seems to boil down love and marriage to a desire for both mutual respect that appreciates the fire in each man’s soul and mutual generosity that appreciates the dust, the clay of each man’s nature.  We want our strengths admired and called upon, our weaknesses realized and covered o’er.  We long for truth and honor and sincerity in all people, most especially our comrades at arms, the ones who help us fight the elements to make a livable world (whatever vision that may be)—we long for this tried-and-true purity of speech and action so much so, that we will kill a sweet lady in the blind hope that a man’s yes is yes and his no is no.  And in the end, maybe it’s the ones we take for fools that help us realize that all we want is for someone to know that we are an ass!  And for all our glory, we are frail.  The Mediterranean sense of inviolable chastity and unmitigated honor is so high an ideal that it forgets we are but men.  And Much Ado About Nothing outlines the voids that plague us: our hunger for affection, our starvation for loyalty, and our deep sense that we have been wronged and must never be so again.  That’s what makes the solace of Beatrice and Benedict’s love such a comfort, such a welcome relief, such an outstanding hope.  Yes, it’s too good to be true.  But for those three hours on the stage, it is true.

Much Ado About Nothing at the Shakespeare Tavern

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