Much Ado About Nothing
It can be the smallest things that make any production of a popular Shakespeare classic more memorable than the last. In an American Players Theatre production, this always seems to come from the least expected places. Maybe the production design is so impressive that it nearly overshadows the play it’s presenting. Maybe there’s a subtle, brilliantly unspoken joke woven into the set design that plays on a drastic height difference between the diminutive James DeVita and a towering supporting character. In this year’s APT production of Much Ado About Nothing, it’s the villain Don John.
More than simply being a marginal character, Don John almost seems to be an afterthought in an otherwise giddy comic script, which is fun enough to make Much Ado one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. Precisely why Don John would leave such a strong impression is a bit of a mystery, particularly when said production features such strong performances in all of the other more central roles. Milwaukee Rep actor Ted Deasy stars as confirmed bachelor Benedick who is unsuspectingly dragged into a relationship with Beatrice – a woman with which he is quite reluctantly head over heels in love. Beatrice is played brilliantly here by Milwaukee actress Tracy Michelle Arnold. Beatrice has a stinging, level-headed wit about her – a wit that Arnold rings to the stage with a considerable amount of flair. At the center of the story rests young Claudio (Marcus Truschinski) who has fallen for Hero (Leah Dutchin), the daughter of the Governor. Brian Mani plays the governor with a characteristically charismatic stage presence. The love here is pure and played remarkably well between Truschinski and Dutchin.
Why should it be then, that the marginal villain Don John is the single aspect of the production that makes this production worth seeing? The character only serves to provide the conflict that is the central obstacle in Claudio and Hero living happily ever after. There are few characters as far from the center as Don John, yet Milwaukee Shakespeare talent Michael Gotch plays the character with such dazzling flair that the character seems almost essential to the plot in this production. It doesn’t take Gotch long to establish the ostentatious personality of his particular Don John as he begins scheming to ruin the wedding plans of Hero and Claudio. Once he’s established his presence, all eyes are on Gotch every time he makes an appearance and the audience responds openly to even his most subtly comic movements. In Milwaukee Shakespeare productions (notably Taming of the Shrew and Richard II) Gotch has proven that he can perform staggeringly well in central roles. Here we see his ability to perform just as well at the margins of the stage. VS
The American Players Theatre’s production of Much Ado About Nothing runs through October 7 in Spring Green. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 608-588-2361 or online at www.playinthewoods.org.