The Austin Chronicle


Everyone, young and old alike, gets drawn in to Present Company's staging of this Shakespearean rom-com

Reviewed by Spike Gillespie, May 2, 2014, Arts

Whole Foods Market Rooftop, 525 N. Lamar
Through May 11
Running time: 2 hr., 15 min.

There comes a moment in every Shakespeare production when the audience mind collectively shifts, when mental to-do lists drop away, plans for tomorrow are forgotten, and, most importantly, that niggling fear on the way in that one won't "get" the play, that the old language will be a barrier, just melts away.

In Present Company's presentation of Much Ado About Nothing, the melting moment comes early on. You can feel the crowd lean forward, eager to grasp the plot, enraptured by the splendidly cast play. While director Lindsay Doleshal has chosen to stick closely to the original script, she also has fun throwing in some modern twists. These don't rely on props and sets, both of which are stripped down to nearly nothing. Instead, there are asides to the audience and perfectly punctuated musical moments courtesy of the band the Wilhelm Scream (Clifton Tipton, Jason Silverberg, and Chris Itz) that take an already brilliant comedy and elevate it further.

Much Ado is one of those oft-trotted-out Bill S. pieces, and even if you haven't seen it as he wrote it, if you've ever seen a romantic comedy, you've pretty much seen this play. It's an execution of the old Doth Protest Too Much taken to giddy extremes. Over here is Beatrice, played wonderfully by Stephanie Carll (also the show's producer and company co-artistic director). And over there, Benedick, equally terrifically portrayed by Sam Grimes (also the show's production manager). Bea and Ben are cut from the same cloth, though don't tell them that. Each decries romance, belittles betrothed behavior as being for lesser beings, and – when sharing scenes – makes certain to cut the other down.

Behind the scenes, though, their friends conspire to pull off the ultimate prank, tricking the Bs into believing each is most desired by the other. Naturally great hijinks, confusion, and mishaps follow. And for good measure, there's a subplot big enough to be labeled a co-plot: Benedick's colleague Claudio (Dan Dalbout) is smitten beyond smitten with Hero (Cassadie Petersen) until he, too, gets punked, and for more than a few moments, life ain't too pretty for this starstruck pair.

The production boasts so many exceptional moments. Mateo Barrera's Balthazar brings down the house during a surprise moment of crooning. Jennifer Coy has a couple of show-stopping moments as she brings some great Cagney and Lacey-ness to her role of Dogberry the master constable. Ky Cleveland demonstrates wonderful physical comedy skills playing both Borachio and the Rabbi. And as Hero's father, Leonato, Lowell Bartholomee is especially funny as he attempts to follow instructions to convince Benedick of Beatrice's love.

Of special note: Take a moment now and again to check out the audience during the show. This family-friendly event draws in viewers of all ages, and to the tremendous credit of Present Company, even the youngest kids out there are clearly spellbound, totally tapping into the Shakespeare. Super bravo!

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