By William Shakespeare. Adapted and directed by Rebecca Patterson. A Classic Chic production. At the Cultch Historic Theatre on Thursday, February 7. Continues until February 16
Classic Chic Productions has a specific mission to produce works with all-female casts. If there’s ever been an important time for all-female productions of William Shakespeare’s work, it’s now. So many of his plays are ultimately about the importance of believing women. Much Ado About Nothing, Classic Chic’s newest production, provides plenty of opportunity for analysis through both a contemporary and a historical-context lens. For the love of feminism, death by slut-shaming is an actual plot point in this play, which was written around 1598.
Benedick (Corina Akeson) and Beatrice (Christina Wells Campbell) are stubbornly single and constantly locked in a battle of barbed wits. After Benedick’s friend Claudio (Adele Noronha) and Beatrice’s cousin Hero (Sereana Malani) fall in love, the young couple agree to help trick Benedick and Beatrice into falling for each other. But chaos ensues after Claudio is duped into believing Hero has been unfaithful to him the night before their wedding. He shames her at the altar, as does Hero’s own father, although she insists she’s innocent. Hero collapses, the Friar convinces her to fake her death until things calm down, and Beatrice demands that Benedick kill Claudio. Eventually, the truth comes out and both couples marry, and yes, this is supposed to be a comedy.
In fact, there are many funny moments, and some really wonderful performances by the large cast. The two standouts, though, are Akeson and Campbell, who not only are gifted comedic actors, but also have great chemistry. The heat between them could be felt up in the balcony, which is also a great vantage point from which to appreciate Akeson’s brilliant physical comedy, as the actor nimbly climbs over and across several rows of the audience while Benedick eavesdrops on his friends discussing Beatrice’s supposed love for him.
There are some missteps. The various music selections range from pop to world to punk to new wave to Latin (to name a few) without any real connection between them. The pacing is also inconsistent. Some scenes flow perfectly while others lag, which is also distracting and jarring.
But I’m grateful for any disruption of and challenge to the Shakespeare sausage party that’s ruled the stage for over 400 years. I don’t blame the Bard himself, but rather the directors, producers, and companies that have rigidly reinforced the binary and contributed to massive gender inequity in the theatre. Classic Chic’s Much Ado About Nothing isn’t perfect, but it does have a higher purpose, and I’m eager to see how the company continues to deepen its artistic and professional development in relationship to its mandate.