‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at the Hilberry delights local students.
Tuesday morning we attended a matinee of the Hilberry Theatre’s production of Much Ado About Nothing – hosted expressly for high school students – complete with a talk-back session with the full cast.
As noted in an earlier preview, guest director Matthew Earnest repackaged this wonderful Shakespeare comedy in an eclectic, somewhat stark post-modern setting. Here Don Pedro’s troops appear in MARPAT camo and the Mediterranean villa is represented by a huge, ivy-covered wall with secret doors that open in a manner reminiscent of the old Laugh-In set.
The students seemed to enjoy the approach – with actors popping in and out of scenes – and laughed heartily when Don Pedro’s request for a love song prompted a karaoke version of Shakespeare’s ‘Sigh No More.’
To accommodate the show’s rain curtain, the deck of the stage is covered with crushed rock for drainage. While the rain adds an interesting dynamic to the production, the rocks are cumbersome to walk on and REALLY NOISY. When the students asked about this, cast members explained that they came to embrace the rocks as if they were a musical aspect of the show; they learned to deliver their lines between taking steps; to keep still when possible; and to use the rocks’ crunching noise as if it were a form of audible punctuation. (For example, stomping off in anger takes on a true, gritty menace when boots are shoved deeply into the gravel for emphasis.)
As always, it is the fine performances by Hilberry veterans that make this show live and breathe. Stand-outs include Dave Toomey as Benedic, Vanessa Sawson as Beatrice, Christopher Ellis as Claudio, Carollette Phillips as Hero, Andrew Papa as Don John and Edmund Alyn Jones as Borochio.
Other members of this large and commendable cast includes: Alec Barbour (Don Pedro), Christopher Call (Antonio), Danielle Cochrane (Margaret), Megan Dobbertin (Ursula), Brent Griffith (Leonato), Sara Hymes (Verges), Sharayah Johnson (Sexton), Zach Johnson (Watch 2), Topher Payne (Balthazar), Jonathan Pigott (Watch 1), Joshua Blake Rippy (Dogberry), David Sterritt (Conrade), and Lorelei Sturm (Friar Francis)). The production team includes Matthew Earnest (Director), Mercedes Coley (Production Stage Manager), Pegi Marshall-Amundsen (Scenic Designer), Jessica Van Essen (Costume Designer), Michael Thomas (Sound Designer) and Jillian Zylinski (Publicist).
The high school students asked the cast many interesting questions after the show and were rewarded with tips for plumbing Elizabethan English with the help of a lexicon, techniques for memorizing lines for multiple shows, and the trick to crying on cue. The actors were also generous with advice to the young actors in the audience: never stop learning and growing; read everything you can; never feel you’re too good – or not good enough – for any part. The final words of counsel were from the heart: if theatre is your passion, don’t give up … but remember that 90% of it is people telling you ‘no;’ one needs to be self-motivated and positive to pursue acting as a vocation.
The Hilberry Theatre production of Much Ado About Nothing runs through November 19, 2011, including Tuesday morning matinees at 10:00 a.m. The theatre is located on the campus of Wayne State University at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock. Tickets are $12-$30 and are available by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at (313) 577-2972 or visiting online. The box office is open Tuesday through Saturday from 2:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m., with extended hours to 8:00 p.m. on performance evenings (Thursday-Saturday).