The following article appeared in the
Greenfield Recorder on Tuesday, June 30, 1998.
Hampshire Shakespeare Co. makes much from 'Much Ado'
By Don Stewart, special to The Recorder
The medieval yucks, intrigues and romantic themes of the Bard's most approachable
comedy emerge fully intact at the Hampshire Shakespeare Co.'s presentation of "Much
Ado About Nothing."
"It's very modern in our mentality," said Director Ben Ware of the 1598 Work.
"When people ask me what it's about, I say, 'Did you ever watch Cheers' Sam and
For readers who may have recently returned from herding reindeer in the Urals for the
past 15 years, the Boston-based TV comedy featured two sharp-witted characters unwilling
to admit they were in love. Director Ware explains that the original Sam and Diane were
the decidedly less sudsy, but far more erudite Beatrice (Christine Stevens) and Benedicke
It is the romantic befuddlement of Benedicke, countering the verbal parries of Beatrice
("Courtesy itself must convert to despair when you come in her presence...")
that propels much of the play's humor. Both actors excel in their roles, Stevens as a
spinster fearing slow, but dignified fossilization, and Kelker-Kelly, as a man in love,
increasingly unencumbered by the thought process.
His awkwardness grows pendulously and when he crudely attempts poetry, he mourns that
he "was not born under a rhyming planet, nor can (he) woo in festival terms..."
There is also the trademarked Shakespearean wordplay as Beatrice quickly calculates
that, "Foul words is but foul wind and foul wind is but foul breath and foul breath
It is accessible Shakespeare, recommended for attentive pre-teens and all ages upward.
The words are not obstructive, the plot is not brooding and the actors know when to
energetically "punch" the lines.
The story unfolds as the army of Don Pedro (Glenn Washburn) arrives in Messina, as
guests of Leonato (Walter Carroll), the governor. They've been here before, as is noted in
Beatrice and Benedicke's opening salvos.
"What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?" he greets her.
"A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours," she soon replies.
Count Claudio (Aaron Fienstein), due to his valor in war, immediately becomes
positively nutty over Leonato's daughter, Hero (Miriam Parrish). He seeks to wed her
quickly ("Time goes on crutches till love have all his rites"). However, his
brother Don John (Ed Dunn) intervenes. Describing himself as "a plain-dealing
villain," he creates disharmony for no apparent reason, sort of a 16th-century George
Steinbrenner. Drawing its plot origins from the early Greek tragedies, the play finds Hero
slandered as unfaithful by Don John. The playwright, however, drops crusty 16th-century
chauvinism, adopting a modernist view.
"More often than not, the tragedy is that the woman has been unfaithful,"
Ware said. "Agamemnon comes back and his wife is shacked up with another man, but I
like the idea of how Shakespeare has twisted that perception. Most audiences, even today,
expect the woman to be disloyal. It's unfortunate. I like the way that even in
Shakespeare's time he was tweaking that idea of the disloyal woman."
He was also tweaking the convention of "Romeo and Juliet," written three
years earlier. At the suggestion of Anthonio (Kip Fonsh), Hero fakes her own death,
considered a good career move at the time, given that it will restore her much coveted
The countering problem, of course, is that this can set up a veritable ballroom of
banana peels in plot development, recalling untimely Romeo's haste to join the choir
eternal without first running things through the reality filter.
Similar dynamics capture Claudio, where where he becomes threatening, and threatened,
by Hero's apparent demise.
Along with several other inspired casting choices, it is the offbeat selection of
Fienstein as Claudio that creates a dynamic within the play.
"Shakespeare has a tendency to write, pretty much, male ingenues, young, wide-eyed
and innocent," Ware said of the role. "I just get sick of that, so I wanted to
go in a different direction. He's much more warlike. You can imagine him on a battlefield,
as opposed to some other actors..."
Significantly, although his romance for Hero allows him to philosophize endlessly
("friendship is constant in all other things save in the office and affairs of
love,") this is not Claudio's play. When Hector Berlioz created his derivative opera
in 1861 he eliminated several characters and called the work, "Beatrice and
"As much as it's about the themes of betrayal and disloyalty," Ware said of
the play's subcontext, "it's also about forgiveness. Especially later in his career,
Shakespeare, really began to hit that home with plays like 'The Winter's Tale' and with
his ideas of rebirth. But just the mere idea of forgiving, especially Claudio, at the end,
feels dubious. But that's what Shakespeare wanted. He wanted to let these moments rise
above to another level, to allow the audience this moment of catharsis."
There is a caveat to these Shakespeare Under the Stars performances. At the Lord
Jeffery there is the 20th-century intrusion, amidst the maples, of a low, persistent hum
from an air-conditioner nearby. Those seeking to truly travel back in time would do best
at the quieter Look Park site.
Don Stewart is a free-lance writer based in Shelburne Falls.