Much Ado About Nothing
The Philadelphia theatre scene currently benefits from the unique and affectionate work of the Mauckingbird Theatre Company. A troupe dedicated to delivering gay-themed theatre as well as reworked versions of classic theatre productions, Mauckingbird has consistently sought to bring an intelligent, gay voice to beloved stories. This month they are delivering a passionately entertaining version of Shakespeare’s "Much Ado About Nothing."
What is so intelligent about the manner in which Mauckingbird approaches their changes to a show such as "Much Ado About Nothing" is that it spends very little time acknowledging that it has been changed at all. The show glides along with a graceful arc, easily accomplishing the goal of telling the story as it was written but for a gay audience in mind.
This lightning-paced classic explores two couples coming together and the parts that their family and friends play in helping them come together. Perfectly executed gender and sexuality changes to the show help it feel authentic to the original story. Indeed even more than the creatively charming plot changes, the most enjoyable aspect of this production is the uniformly stellar cast.
Of particular note in the cast were Sean Thompson and Cheryl Williams, the two actors who shone the brightest. Thompson’s Beatrice was a near revelation in demonstrating how fitting the role is for a sneering gay man, while Williams’ played Leonato more convincingly and emotionally fulfilling than any man could. Convincing turns from all involved made this updated show not only believable, but also extremely enjoyable. Director Peter Reynolds expertly gave each member of the cast his own spot to shine in, and luckily each member seized these opportunities.
If there was a negative takeaway from this production it is that it has condensed "Much Ado About Nothing" into just under 90 minutes, which doesn’t have quite the effect as the longer, original play. With less time for love to build and anger to simmer, the play packed less of a punch than it deserved. Still, the intent of the show was to simply put a gay spin on a familiar story, and that was accomplished beautifully. Perhaps it wouldn’t have felt quite so charming and interesting in a longer production.
Mauckingbird Theatre Company has created a heartfelt and entertaining triumph with "Much Ado About Nothing," with clever plot changes and a dynamic cast. The show left me with a smile, but more importantly it had the effect of letting me question gender roles in such a well-established story. Mauckingbird is doing something unique and ultimately important, and will hopefully have many more similar productions to come.
"Much Ado About Nothing" runs through August 26 at the Off-Broad Street Theatre, 1636 Sansom Street. For info or tickets call 215-923-8909 or visit www.mauckingbird.org.