Well, it's that time of year again: The Actors' Renaissance Season at the American Shakespeare Center. This is like the NFL Playoffs at the Blackfriars, where the best of the best actors are invited to participate. I attended two PWYW performances of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing this past Saturday. This is probably my wife's favorite play. I enjoy it, I think it's very funny. It has several moments of brilliance, and features a few unforgettable characters, but it's not in my top ten. While it's not my favorite Shakesperean comedy, this is a terrific production of the play, and features plenty of solid work from these all-star actors.
We saw a production of Much Ado during the 2009 Summer Season at the ASC featuring Rene Thornton, Jr. and Sarah Fallon in the roles of Benedick and Beatrice. This time, Benjamin Curns and Miriam Donald Burrows, neither of whom were in that production, take the lead roles and are fantastic. Miriam plays the most likable Beatrice I've yet seen on stage or screen, but she is sufficiently snarky and seems to always get the best of Curns' Benedick. Curns turns in his usual excellent leading man performance and unleashes plenty of physical comedy throughout, including sitting on my lap while I was on stage in the Gallant's Stools. Miriam also made sure to get in on the action of using me as a prop as I was featured as the fresh faced lack beard to whom she is not attracted. I even had a patron tell me that I play a great fool during the interlude! I wasn't sure whether to take it as a compliment or an insult.
Continuing with the foolery, John Harrell is magnificent as the confused Dogberry. His facial expressions, always his strong suit, are at their best, and his costume is brilliant; sporting a very convincing gut. The returning Aidan O'Reilly plays his sidekick Verges in a style reminiscent of Paul Lynde. O'Reilly plays the total opposite role from Verges as the bastard Don John, the evil brother of Greg Phelps' Prince Don Pedro. It's good to see O'Reilly back on the stage in Staunton. Also turning in a hilarious performance is ASC fan favorite Daniel Kennedy as Antonio/Balthazar. Kennedy has a couple of brilliant comedic spots that I'm not going to spoil, but you must see.
Chris Johnston turns in one of his best performances at the ASC in arguably his biggest role to date, as Claudio. I'm happy to see that Johnston has been given a prominent role and he does not disappoint. Johnston plays opposite the returning Brandi Rhome as Hero, daughter of Thornton's Leonato. I was also glad to see Brandi return as she always does a great job, especially in a role like this. Thornton, as always, delivers the goods as the honor driven Governor of Messina.
It was also great to see Jeremy West and Sarah Fallon back on stage at the Blackfriars. While their roles are minor in this play, they have some good roles coming up and just seeing them made me feel great about this ensemble.
Before the evening show, Jim Warren and the cast announced the 2012-13 artistic year and we will have plenty of great plays to look forward to! Following the show, Warren gave a lengthy and informative TalkBack on artistic direction at the ASC.
The music for this show was very good, especially showcasing the talents of O'Reilly and Johnston. Speaking of Johnston, he has a released a CD of original music titled Bromios. It is available at the Blackfriars Box Office and on iTunes.
I'd also like to give special attention to Shannon Schultz, Erin Doerty, Ellie Laliberte, Dane Leasure, and Symmonie Preston for keeping everything running smoothly at the Playhouse during these often wild and crazy PWYW shows. These folks are unsung heroes and are important for providing you with a smooth and easy play going experience, so next time you're at the Playhouse, give them a little applause as well.
Check out the rest of Adrian's reviews on his blog, Mid-Atlantic Traveler.
For best seats, order tickets for Much Ado about Nothing today.
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Actors' Renaissance Season