When you walk into the Shakespeare Theatre Company's sleek modern Sidney Harman Hall, the gorgeous Broadway caliber set by Lee Savage tranforms one from being across the street from the MCI or Verizon (or whatever) Center to a lovely hacienda in 1930's Cuba which sits on a sugar plantation and features a lovely courtyard surrounded by pillars, second story windows, doors, and hallways which allow the necessary eavesdropping required in this Shakespeare comedy. There's even a working water fountain to the side.
Much Ado About Nothing was original set on another hot island city, Messina on the island of Sicily. It works so well under the fine direction of Ethan McSweeney who has assembled a superb cast and most importantly a terrific duo of Beatrice and Benedick played by the delectable pair of middle-aged actors,Kathryn Meisle as Beatrice and Dereck Smith as Benedick.
Thanks to STC Literary Associate Drew Lichtenberg's work in the program, this lovable couple are the only lovers in all of Shakespeare works who appear to have a romantic past before the play gets started. According to Lichtenberg, "Both cryptically allude to a previous relationship, and it is clear both were wounded by it." This bit of information helps understand the love/hate relationship. Interestingly, I recently saw the Everyman Theatre's production of Noel Coward's Private Lives and I wonder if Coward based his loving couple on Beatrice and Benedick?
Since the action takes place in Cuba, you can expect some terrific music from mambo, sambo, cha-cha, rhumba thanks to the work of Composer and Sound Designer Steven Cahill and Choreographer Marcos Santana. The ensemble is really spectacular. There was one scene when during a dance, an actress' wig fell off and Mark Hairston (Borachio) quickly picked it up and put on HIS head. What a clever move. Nothing like live theater, aye?
Two of DC's finest actors are Floyd King (so terrific in Heir Apparent) and Ted Van Griethuysen (remember his King Lear?) almost steal the show as "Verges" and "Dogberry" respectfully.
One question I have concerns why some actors have Cuban accents but most do not. If the scene is Cuba, does it make sense for the characters to sound like their British at times?
Now to the controversy. Latino artists complained to Artistic Director Michael Kahn that two minor charactors (Hugh Oatcake and George Seacoal) had their names changed to reflect their presence in Cuba. So they became Juan Hueovs and Jose Frijoles (Spanish words for "eggs" and "beans") which many considered demeaning and derogatory. Kahn smartly has made the change to the original character names.
Much Ado About Nothing has been extended to January 7, 2012. What a great way to spend the holiday season. For tickets, call 202-547-1122.