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Hero as villain?

Mixed Magic's 'Much Ado About Nothing'
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  July 24, 2013

SOMETHING? ANYTHING? The cast of 'Much Ado.'

There is much to make much ado about in Much Ado About Nothing, a deserved favorite among Shakespeare’s comedies. Farce and romance energize it, but there are also concerns about acting honorably that expand the story into a fuller commentary on human interplay.

It’s a cautionary tale, the “nothing” of the title playing with the word “noting,” which was pronounced the same and meant gossip and speculation. And yet one of the central misunderstandings has ironic benefit, sparking love between two conversational sparring partners.

Mixed Magic Theatre has mounted a production (through July 28) in the courtyard of the Design Center in Pawtucket, directed by Tammy Brown. The show is rather wobbly, with lines stepped on in an early performance and a pivotal scene missing to shrink the show to 2-1/4 hours. That said, there are several good performances. Remarkably, one of the best actors — Edward Vernard Crews, playing Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon — performed script in hand, filling in last-minute in that noble “the show must go on” tradition.

But as far as the acting goes, the star of the show is Jason Quinn, in the central role of Benedick, the reluctant lover. Benedick’s playfully antagonistic relationship with the sharp-tongued Beatrice (Stephanie Traversa), who gives Quinn a lively foil to play against, is the sputtering motor driving this play.

Beatrice is a cousin of Hero (Alyssa Xavier), daughter of Leonato (Bill Pett), Governor of Messina. Hero’s beauty early on prompts a betrothal with Benedick’s friend Claudio (Kyle W. Porter). But there has been a history of Benedick and Beatrice exchanging barbs, prompting Don Pedro to mention “a kind of merry war” between them. The spirited heart of the play is the unlikely yet plausible romance between these two. Each is tricked into believing that the other is in love with them, their indifference merely a protective veneer. Adorable.

Shakespeare and his audiences liked to have foolish people in his comedies (Polonius in Hamlet being the prime example) as well as court jesters, and Much Ado is no exception. Dogberry is played delightfully by Meghan Rose Donnelly, which gives this ludicrous captain of the watch a subliminal boost by her being a woman in a man’s world, ordering around her equally foolish underlings. Dogberry provides the comical bonus of not understanding the big words she likes to use, as in: “O villain! Thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this.”

A character with the name Borachio (Ian Lesniak) can’t very well have a serious role, since the word means drunkard in Italian. Borachio and his sidekick Conrad (Christine Pavao) do the dirty work of his villainous boss, Don John (Raff), the bastard brother of Don Pedro, the prince. Early on, Don John takes a stab at some mischief by telling Claudio that Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself and not on Claudio’s behalf as promised, but that gets waved off as a misunderstanding.

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