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Theater Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Gordon Bolar

The GhostLight Theatre in Benton Harbor staged “Much Ado About Nothing” out of doors at an old community landmark last week. WMUK’s Gordon Bolar has this review.

Shakespeare’s comedy about two pairs of quarreling lovers is brought to life at Eden Springs Park, in the ruins of a beer garden on the grounds of the House of David in Benton Harbor. The show was presented in the early evening, late summer hours with available light with an all-female cast, and used imaginative staging with sparkling performances.

More important, this “Much Ado” consistently found creative ways to engage its audience.(P) Early in the show people in the audience were invited to join in the disguises of the Governor’s Masque by donning masks themselves.

The production’s most unusual feature was director Kristina McCloskey’s use of space in the park. Her self-described “promenade staging” immersed audience members in live dramatic action on the grounds in and around the amphitheater, all of which presumably represented the palace of the Governor of Messina. We were gently coaxed by the characters to wander briefly from our seats at the main stage area and walk briskly to discover other scenes about to begin on a nearby hillside, by a fountain, or in a grove across the way.

Because much of the play’s action involved gossip, secrets, eavesdropping, and misdirection, McCloskey’s strategy worked well in holding our interest and in helping us choose sides as the characters dupe and mislead each other.

McCloskey created visual variety and perspective by alternating scenes between the main playing area and nearby spaces and venues. At times, her staging seemed cinematic in its use of the long shot, when a character’s actions are observed from afar, or the close-up, as the focus shifted to a character speaking directly to us from a few feet away.

We saw Count Claudio observe what he wrongly believes to be a betrayal by his betrothed, Hero. Because of Claudio’s distance from the scene he beholds, his mistaken identification of his bride-to-be was understandable.

We watched Signior Benedick, played by Terra Lenox, gaze with dropped jaw as he overhears the false report of Beatrice’s love for him. Later, in a different locale, we witnessed Beatrice similarly fooled by misleading gossip about the affections of her heretofore hated foe, Benedick.

Meghan Pelkey, as Beatrice, delivered the evening’s most winning and commanding performance. She successfully navigated both the physical and verbal challenges of this juicy role. Pelkey could take stage with a gesture or quick turn, or support the slumping posture of one wrongfully accused, like her cousin, Hero. She was adept at playing the sharp-tongued shrew, slashing would-be suitors to ribbons. But her character’s hard veneer quickly melted when accepting the affections of someone sincerely professing love, such as Benedick.

Denial of the love that pulls them together is key to the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick. Pelkey and Lenox were capable of making the sparks fly through witty putdowns in their initial scenes. The pair also brought the heat of the emotional attraction that ultimately binds them together.

In this production of “Much Ado About Nothing”, Shakespeare’s language was delivered with seeming ease and always with clear intention for the character. It’s worth noting that the all-female cast rendered the love relationships between performers playing men and those playing women believably.

And now a final note about this production that’s a sign of the times in which we live: As I was writing this review, I received an e-mail from GhostLight Theatre sent to all ticket holders saying that one of the performers, who was fully vaccinated, had tested positive for COVID-19. That led to the cancellation of all remaining performances for “Much Ado About Nothing”, which was originally scheduled to run through August 29th. It’s a truly unfortunate ending for this lively and innovative production.