‘Much Ado’ adds something new

March 8, 2019

Hold Thy Peace’s (HTP) recent production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” added a new spin on the classic comedy. While the plot of the play was maintained, the setting changed from Messina, Sicily to a high school straight out of a ’90s romantic comedy. In the spirit of Shakespeare adaptations like Ten Things I Hate About You, HTP set its production as a high school drama. However, HTP’s production does not alter the dialogue to suit the modern high school aesthetic, instead opting to maintain the original Shakespearean dialogue. While this sometimes results in a disjunction between the dialogue and the new setting, it is more than made up for by excellent acting and hilarious hijinks.

In her directorial debut at Brandeis, Olivia Ellson ’21 does an excellent job of meshing together Shakespeare’s work and the aesthetic of a ’90s romantic comedy. Each of the characters is altered to a high school equivalent. For example, Don Pedro, portrayed by Harrison Carter ’22, is changed from being a prince to a popular jock type, the high school equivalent of a prince. All the characters are portrayed as their high school equivalents like with the lovers Claudio and Hero, portrayed by Nickole Sandoval ’21 and Taylor Kincaid ’22, who are a jock and cheerleader respectively. Ellson further adds to the teen romantic comedy aesthetic through the set, costumes and props.


Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this production is the set design by Amanda Pyun ’22. The stage itself is set up like a basketball court, but the really fascinating aspect of the set is how the audience views the court. Along each wing of the stage, chairs have been set up and elevated to resemble bleachers; the audience is then encouraged to sit on these bleachers. This clearly mimics how an audience would watch a high school basketball game from the bleachers, but in the context of a play, it puts the audience in the rare position of actually being on stage during a performance. This allows the audience to feel more immersed in the plot because they are so close to it. In fact, at several points in the play, actors would actually walk through the audience. The set brings to mind the phrase breaking the fourth wall, which can take the form of an actor breaking the invisible wall which divides the audience from the stage by addressing or referencing them. This set, however, has a somewhat inverse effect because rather than breaking a fourth wall to audience, the audience becomes two of the other walls.

While this type of staging does have its drawbacks, such as a lack of wing space and being able to see characters enter and exit, these problems did not arise during the performance. While there were occasional sounds of people exiting and entering, overall the transitions between scenes were done very well. Furthermore, since the play takes place in a high school, having the characters enter through the door and through the audience makes sense and does not detract from the immersion.

The excellent costume design also helped blend the aesthetics of the play. Costume designer Sophia Massida ’20 and assistant costume designer Gabi Stahl ’21 utilized simple modern clothing as costume, as well as common teen tropes. For example, the jocks, like Don Pedro and Claudio, are mostly shown wearing basketball jerseys, a uniform which is reminiscent of their characters’ professions as soldiers in the original Shakespeare play. On the other hand, Don Pedro’s bastard brother Don John, portrayed by Celia Bernhardt ’22, wears a black jacket and darker colors to signify their status as a delinquent type character. Don John’s association with this trope identifies him as a trouble maker but also an outsider much like his character in the original play. Whether it be jackets or jerseys, every costume is used to identify a character with a particular trope, like jock or delinquent. At the same time, the costumes are reminiscent of the original character depictions but in a modern perspective.

Above all else, what makes the performance so enjoyable is the incredible performances by each cast member. Every character has a moment to shine, whether in a dramatic scene or, more often than not, a comical scene. In particular, Halley Geringer ’19, who portrays Beatrice, is especially adept at playing a rebellious teenager but also layers her performance by revealing Beatrice’s more caring nature beneath her initially standoffish personality. Another notable performance was Elizabeth Gentile’s ’20 portrayal of Benedick. Gentile portrays Benedick initially as a typical jock type but adds depth to the character through his flustered interaction with his love interest Beatrice. The will-they-won’t-they dynamic Beatrice and Benedick share in the play encapsulates a teen romantic comedy, and their excellent portrayals make them the most interesting and relatable characters in the show.

By adding a teen romantic comedy aesthetic to their production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” the cast and crew were able to display an excellent Shakespearean performance while also bringing a modern perspective to the show. The unique and well-designed set offers a new perspective for the audience. Elements like the costumes and acting help bring this modern perspective while still paying respect to the original material. Overall, this production demonstrates how Shakespeare’s works are still relevant today and how these works can be adapted for modern audiences.

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