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Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell

November 23, 2023 Issue
PART 5 (November 21, 2023)

A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.


PlayMakers Rep's Must-See Production of Shakespeare's
Much Ado About Nothing Is Really Something Special!

Much Ado About Nothing at PlayMakers Rep stars Tia James (left) as Benedick and Aneesh Sheth as Beatrice (photo by HuthPhoto)

Much Ado About Nothing -- PlayMakers Repertory Company's current offering -- is one of William Shakespeare's comic masterpieces! And this PRC production is every bit as much of a masterpiece. Director Lavina Jadhwani's bold choices, along with brisk, smooth pacing and masterful work by the cast, crew, and designers, make for a top-notch theatrical experience.

Waiting for the show to start, we were able to feast our eyes on scenic designer Dahlia Al-Habieli's beautiful, colorful, ornate set.

Then: enter Dogberry (Jeffrey Blair Cornell) and Verges (Mengwe Wapimewah) to greet us (in character) with a "curtain speech" in which the setting -- Messina, North Carolina in the 1940s -- is established, the lighthearted tone is set, and these characters' down-the-road comedic scenes are foreshadowed. (Especially ingenious: the additional malapropisms -- priceless!)

Then, the show!

Saleemah Sharpe (left) and Sanjana Taskar star Ursula and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing at PlayMakers Rep (photo by HuthPhoto)

The Play:

For the benefit of anyone is unfamiliar with Much Ado About Nothing, Wikipedia tells us:

"The play revolves around two romantic pairings that emerge when a group of soldiers arrives in the town. The first, between Claudio and Hero, is nearly scuppered by the accusations of the villain, Don John. The second, between Claudio's friend Benedick and Hero's cousin Beatrice, takes centre stage as the play continues, with both characters' wit and banter providing much of the humour.

"Through 'noting' (sounding like 'nothing' and meaning gossip, rumour, overhearing), Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into confessing their love for each other, and Claudio is tricked into believing that Hero is not a maiden (virgin). The title's play on words references the secrets and trickery that form the backbone of the play's comedy, intrigue, and action."

Much Ado About Nothing stars Mengwe Wapimewah (left) as Verges and Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Dogberry (photo by HuthPhoto)

The Acting:

The acting is exquisite -- all the actors are perfectly suited to their roles, and they all turn in excellent performances. That said, there are a few shout-outs in order.

Any production of Much Ado About Nothing must have larger-than-life portrayals of Beatrice, Benedick, and Dogberry; but it is essential that these characters remain believable. PRC's production hits both marks spot-on.

This Beatrice and this Benedick are perfectly matched.

Tia James portrays Benedick's bombastic nature without ever going overboard, and we easily believe in the character's transformations (which are quite amusing nonetheless).

Aneesh Sheth's Beatrice carries herself in such a fashion that we immediately read her self-assuredness but are not surprised when we become aware of her vulnerability. And she positively nails the "If I were a man ... Kill Claudio" sequence.

Jeffrey Blair Cornell is a natural as Dogberry. He and Verges (Mengwe Wapimewah) and the other members of "The Watch" play together quite well.

As Don Pedro, Rasool Jahan moves smoothly from being a "clipped speaking" military officer when that is appropriate to being "one of the guys" while interacting with Claudio and Leonato.

And I was impressed by the exuberance and the giddiness exhibited by Claudio (Jamar Jones) and Hero (Sanjana Taskar) when the focus was on them and their love.

The PRC cast includes (from left) Lisa Wolpe as Leonato, Rasool Jahan as Don Pedro, and Sanjana Taskar as Hero (photo by HuthPhoto)

The Tech:

We can thank scenic designer Dahila Al-Habieli for the above-mentioned lavish set and costume designer Jan Chambers for the period-specific costumes.

Lighting designer Sarah Hughey integrates two follow-spots into the grid for a masterful effect in several scenes.

Choreographer Tracy Bersley has supplied the cast with lively steps (which are well-executed); composer and music director Peter Vitale makes judicious use of music at key points.

The program credits Alex Thompson as "Associate Sound Designer." Sound was "sound."

Heinley Gaspard (left) and Jamar Jones star as Don John and Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing at PlayMakers (photo by HuthPhoto)

Nice Touches:

The Bottom Line:

This is a must-see production of this very popular play.

PlayMakers Repertory Company's presentation of Much Ado About Nothing stars (from left) Saleemah Sharpe as Ursula, Lisa
Wolpe as Leonato, Aneesh Sheth as Beatrice, Sanjana Taskar as Hero, and Hayley Cartee as Margaret (photo by HuthPhoto)

William Shakespeare's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21, 22, and 24-26 and Nov. 28-Dec. 3), directed by Lavina Jadhwani, starring Aneesh Sheth as Beatrice and Tia James as Benedick, and co-starring (in alphabetical order) Reez Bailey as Seacole, Hayley Cartee as Margaret, Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Dogberry, Matthew Donahue as a Friar, Elizabeth Dye as Balthasar, Heinley Gaspard as Don John, Rasool Jahan as Don Pedro, Jadah Johnson as Lady Conrad, Jamar Jones as Claudio, Nate John Mark as Oatcake, Gwendolyn Schwinke as Antonia, Saleemah Sharpe as Ursula, Sanjana Taskar as Hero, Thomas Nash Tetterton as a Musician, Adam Valentine as Borachio, Mengwe Wapimewah as Verges, and Lisa Wolpe as Leonato (PlayMakers Repertory Company in the Paul Green Theatre in UNC-Chapel Hill's Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art). TRAILER: DIGITAL PROGRAM: PRC VIDEOS: PRESENTER:,,,, and 2023-24 SEASON: PRC BLOG: VENUE: and DIRECTIONS/PARKING: CAROLINA TOGETHER COVID-19 PAGE: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (1598-99 Comedy):,, and THE SCRIPT: STUDY GUIDE (Utah Shakespeare Festival): WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (Elizabethan and Jacobean playwright and poet, 1564-1616):,,, and NOTE 1: The 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26th, show will be an Open Captioned Performance. NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe and American-sign-language interpret the show's 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28th, performance. NOTE 3: There will be a Post-Show Discussion after the 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3rd, performance. TICKETS: $20 and up ($10 students and youth), plus taxes and fees. Click here to buy tickets. INFORMATION: 919-962-7529 or PLEASE DONATE TO: PlayMakers Repertory Company.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights' Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with North Carolina Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review.


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