Shakespearian comedy brings hilarity to the Dibden stage


Cayla Fronhofer

The cast thanks the crew at the end of the show

The works of William Shakespeare are among the most timeless stories in history. They have been reworked and reimagined time and time again, and now “Much Ado About Nothing” has come to the Dibden stage.

Directed by Isaac Eddy (“Eurydice”), this version of the play kept Shakespeare’s original dialogue, but moved the setting to Vermont.

The set was composed largely of wooden pallets (set design by Andrew Tascarella), which were moved around between scenes to act as fences, platforms or monuments. At the back of stage hung a large papier-mâché face, created in a similar style to the masks worn by the characters during the masquerade scene. A large hand sat at each edge, pointing inward as though this large, mysterious character was holding the stage in its arms. To light the area, warm string lights were hung from the top and front of the stage.

The costumes (design by Cambrie Earl) complemented the set well. Each character was dressed entirely in white clothing, usually with brown shoes. The elegance of the color scheme matched the simplicity of the minimalist set and drew focus to the performance itself.

“Much Ado About Nothing” has always been my favorite Shakespeare. I love its witty dialogue and dynamic characters, and the Dibden cast members brought both aspects to their performances.
Sam Lewis played a fantastic Benedick, replete with sharp tongue, cocky confidence and over-the-top bravado. Mackenzie Brown’s Beatrice was the perfect foil, with her own sharp wit and a strong dose of exasperation for Benedick’s antics.

The show’s other couple, Claudio (Cody Logan) and Hero (Ophelia Blair), proved equally well-acted. Claudio’s distress and anger at Hero’s “disloyalty” came across clearly, and Hero’s devastation when Claudio accused her during their wedding expressed a deep level of humiliation and outrage.

Don John, the unrepentant villain of the show, was played by Gabrielle Straight. She brought a brilliant air of maleficence to the role, with just the right amount of disdain for everyone else.

Josh Baughn came into the show slightly later as Dogberry, the constable of the night watch. His entrance marked a new level of hilarity for the show as he marched around the stage in a ghillie suit, interrogating his underlings in a ridiculous fashion.

The cast added their own flavor of humor to the production. When Beatrice and Benedick were eavesdropping on their respective friends, learning of the other’s “love” for them, Lewis’s and Brown’s performances were outrageously funny. Whether hiding under a drum or behind a pallet, both actors moved in over-the-top ways that had me snorting with laughter.

Baughn’s portrayal of Dogberry was full of silliness as well. His overly friendly attitude toward all of the other characters was hilarious, and his comical method of entering and exiting the stage as a motorized vehicle, with his own vocalized sound effects and two flashlights held in front of him as headlights, added another dose of comedy to the show.

Between scenes and accompanying the musical interludes, Spencer Perry displayed talented and dramatic live percussion on a pair of bass drums, adding an unexpected magnitude to the experience.
The change of setting was never stated outright and, had I not known about it ahead of time, I might have been confused as to why Don John had a smartphone and a few of the party’s attendees were vaping. However, if you read the director’s note ahead of time, those details made sense and the subtlety made sure that the setting change wouldn’t get in the way of the plot.

Although the script was modified in at least one place — Hero said, “He is the only man of Vermont,” instead of, “He is the only man of Italy” — all pronouns were left unchanged. Considering the number of male roles being played by women, this was slightly confusing until the characters became more established. While I fully support the flipping of traditional roles, I would have preferred to see those changes reflected in the script.

During one of the party scenes, all of the actors came into the space between the front of the stage and the audience. The stage lights went out and flashlights held by the actors became rave-like strobe lights. Those same flashlights were then pointed in specific directions to act as spotlights for the multiple small interactions that happened within the larger scene. Not only did this give the scene suitably harsher and more dramatic lighting, it was a clever use of an unorthodox method.

Having the actors nearly in the audience, while an interesting way of using the space, took me slightly out of the story. However, this may have been because of my position in the first row. It’s possible that people seated farther away from the stage had no such issues.

Overall, the show was fantastic. The actors all brought a fire and verve to their performances that made it a joy to experience, seemingly undeterred by the numerous lines of dialogue that a Shakespeare script is sure to bring. Among the many adaptations of this show I’ve seen, films and plays alike, this version has made a place in my favorites.