Review by louisa vilardi

Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing Triumphs at The Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck

The Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck opened their production of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing on April 5, 2019, making much ado of everything we love about theater: love, hate, language, character, truth and lies.

With impeccable direction from Parker Reed, the Center’s take on the well-known plot honors the Bard’s language with a laudable simplicity and fidelity, played on a beautiful set (Richard Prouse) replicating The Globe Theater, and costume and lighting design by Lobsang Camacho.

Don Pedro (Thom Webb) and his company return from a journey to the home a friend, Leonato (Joe Eriole), bringing with him Benedick (David Foster) and Claudio (Jeremy Ratel), as well as his half-brother, the  discontented Don John (John Schmitz). With encouragement from Leonato, romances are sparked; among them Claudio with Leonato’s daughter, Hero (Stevie Hergenrader Reed) and Benedick with Leonato’s free-spirited niece, Beatrice (Tamara Cacchione). Benedick and Beatrice are duped into confessing their longstanding love for each other, and Claudio is tricked into rejecting Hero on their wedding day, under the impression that she has been unfaithful. “Much ado” ensues, but by the end, all’s well, as the characters celebrate both couples’ weddings and love for each other.

Lou Trapani as Antonio and Rebecca Rivera as Ursula

From the first syllable uttered on the Rhinebeck stage, it is evident that Reed paid particular attention to each and every word, and equipped the cast to give these words life. The verbal sparring was lively, and the lines of love and passion were spoken with pace that moved the audience like a beautiful ballad. 

The ensemble of sixteen worked seamlessly and tirelessly to entertain the audience, and seemed genuinely entertained by each other.

Joe Eriole as Leonato is altogether moving as both leader and protector. Eriole is a polished actor who is able to push limits whether it be as a noble and tough-minded chieftain or a tender father and uncle. His portrayal of Leonato is powerful as he fights for the truth regarding his wronged daughter.

It is possible to have  Benedick’s protestations of true love seem a bit worn-out in productions of Much Ado, but David Foster’s comedic portrayal of Benedick leaves the audience doing more than merely enduring Benedick’s antics in the full knowledge that he is destined to fall victim to his fears. Foster’s impressive movement and confident comic delivery give us a more jovial Benedick than may be typical in the role.

Beatrice is a formidable character to tackle, but Tamara Cacchione does it with grace and command.  One has the impression Cacchione is as fearless as Beatrice, and she delivers her lines with finesse, powerfully capturing the character’s timeless complexities in a powerhouse debut performance at the Center.

Steavie Hergenrader Reed gives a beautiful and skillfull performance as Hero. Hero is a character who can play as one-dimensional, but Hergenrader Reed’s presence and skill proves Hero to be much more, and she is a joy to watch throughout the play.

Jeremy Ratel is impressive as Claudio. His gusto and wit provide equal measures of comic timing and the sadness of the Claudio-Hero subplot to the play, in what is a subtly complex Shakespearean romantic role.

We fall in love with Thom Webb’s Don Pedro as he adds intricacy and balance to the this enigmatic character. Even as he is caught up in the rouse that leads to Hero’s near downfall, Webb’s Don Pedro never loses the audience’s awareness of his benevolence, drawing out a sub-plot of empathy for the fact that he doesn’t end up with his own romantic attachment by the end of the play rarely highlighted in more typical productions.

Wendy Urban-Mead as Verges and Michael Britt as Dogberry

Lou Trapani plays Leonato’s brother Antonio as a character of cool appeal and calculated composure.

John Schmitz as Don John does a fantastic job playing the villain, is strong in his quiet movement and believable in his callous treachery. 

The calm villainy of his plot is comically juxtaposed against a haplass group of law enforcement officials led by Michael Britt as Dogberry, whose performance is so memorable that we forget we don’t meet him until Act II.

The rest of the cast consists of talented actors who harmoniously work together to tell this beautiful story: Vera Perry is delightful in dual roles as Margaret and Seacoal; Andrew Austin is both effectively deceitful and remorseful as Borachio; Chris Backofen an able gentleman-villain as Conrade; Ronnie Joseph a strong female voice in defense of the wronged Hero as Friar Francis; Wendy Urban-Mead is the somewhat more capable officer Verges in strong comedic support of Dogberry; Michael Curtis is funny and able in the dual roles of Balthasar and Oatcake; and Rebecca Rivera is enchanting as Hero’s gentlewoman Ursula and suitably grave as the Sexton who struggles through Dogberry’s inept “unraveling” of the plot against Leonato’s household. 

Steavie Hergenrader Reed as Hero, Lou Trapani as Antonio, and Joe Eriole as Leonato

All of the actors show great command of the language and a depth of understanding of their characters that leads to the strong impression that no character is playing a “small” part here.

William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing at The Center is sheer fun filled with bounce and zeal and runs through April 14, 2019. Don’t miss it! Tickets at www.centerforperformingarts.org

Louisa Vilardi

Louisa Vilardi is a writer and theater director who lives in New York with her husband and two sons.  Her writing has been featured in The Huffington Post, Today Parenting Team, and Scary Mommy. More at www.LouisaVilardi.com

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