Any company approaching Much Ado About Nothing faces a number of difficult hurdles. It features one of the most passive, flat, one-note villains in any Shakespearean play. It threads slapstick farcical plot lines into an otherwise very serious story about betrayal, wrongdoing, and dishonor. And it features two characters, Beatrice and Benedick, who are so beloved by most audiences that any actor who dares to portray them is constantly pitted against the audience’s very high expectations.
NextStop Theatre Company’s production of Much Ado About Nothing rose so valiantly to these challenges that I was genuinely blown away.
In full disclosure, Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite Shakespeare play, and may even top the list as my favorite play full stop. It’s one of the shows that made me fall in love with theatre. I have seen this show so many times that I know all of the emotional beats like an old song. I know the common choices and common fixes directors make to overcome the aforementioned hurdles, and at this point I watch most productions the same way most sports fans watch their favorite team – looking to see what the director did with it. For me, it’s like watching a well loved movie. I know which characters I prefer to watch in each scene. Whose reactions to look for. It’s my favorite show, sure, but at this point seeing Much Ado is often predictable and routine for me.
Not in this production. Abigail Isaac Fine’s directorial choices continuously surprised me, bringing new life and new depth to a story and to characters that I thought I knew completely.