Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

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Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
website | reviews

Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
website | reviews







« The Odd Couple | Main | Imagining Madoff »

Much Ado About Nothing

Director Matthew Earnest understands the importance of making Shakespeare feel interesting and fresh to an audience. Still, his Much Ado About Nothing at the Hilberry Theatre may not give the Bard quite enough credit. There’s no questioning the company’s playful mastery of the fussy and ultimately harmless love stories at the base of this comedy, but on the other side of the coin, the director deliberately inserts major obstacles into his interpretation, about which the best that can be said is that the production largely survives them.

Few couples in Shakespeare are as dynamic and fun as fierce combatants Beatrice and Signor Benedick, and Vanessa Sawson and Dave Toomey easily do them justice. The pair is tactically exhaustive, just as likely to wield calculated dismissiveness as a snarling retort; their variation leaves room for fruitful exploration when the characters are duped — or, more accurately, nudged — into falling hard for each other. Love’s more traditional course finds footing in the affably dumbfounded Signor Claudio (Christopher Ellis) and unfailingly good Hero (Carollette Phillips), who manage to broadcast they are meant for each other without confining the characters to their numbingly pure affection.

Deception is the watchword in this story, both in the name of fun and laced with bitterness. Big, obvious reactions and calculated timing make for an especially memorable scene in which Ellis, Alec Barbour, and Brent Griffith conduct a staged conversation for the benefit of an eavesdropping Toomey. Its sister scene is equally cheeky, as Phillips and confidante Danielle Cochrane breezily conspire to bowl over a barely contained Sawson. Elsewhere, Andrew Papa gives fangs to the conniving Don John as he schemes to undermine Claudio and Hero’s marriage just because, even as the steadfastly ignorant Dogberry (Joshua Blake Rippy) threatens to untangle the plot entirely in spite of himself. The beats of the text are handled with wonderful precision by the extensive cast, finding room among the light and amicable frolicking for a few deathly serious moments.

With no more stricture than the setting “Italy,” the design concept has inconsistencies and pitfalls that wrest attention away from the performances. The two flat planes of Pegi Marshall-Amundsen’s scenic design become a double-edged sword: vertically, an ivy-covered exterior wall is rife with activity that suits both action and tone; horizontally, a pebble-paved stage floor is as visually charming as it is nightmarishly prohibitive, its unstable surface and dialogue-squelching crunch crunch crunch an unnecessary distraction no matter how studiously the players place and plant their feet. The permeable surface makes possible a single effect that seems to be included for effects’ sake, bolstering a scene of over-the-top revelry that feels utterly disjointed from the otherwise relaxed and idyllic summer setting. Composer and music director George Abud drops karaoke influences into his poppy renditions of Shakespearean verse, forcing specificity onto timeless storytelling. Jessica Van Essen’s costume design bobs and weaves with the shifting needs; consistent with the show as a whole, the nonspecifically contemporary dress and its vintage-inspired prettiness clashes with the deliberately weird interludes, calling into further question their ultimate benefit to the production.

When this Much Ado About Nothing calls attention to the merits of its text, it sparkles with easy humor, earning big laughs from its large ensemble. When its interpretive spin and unjustified design elements take precedence, the play falters, up to and including an inventive final dance that confusingly plays like an interminable curtain call. In aggregate, however, this is an exceedingly skillful and enjoyable show for all its impeding on itself.

Much Ado About Nothing is no longer playing.
For the latest from Hilberry Theatre, click here.