By Bernie Krumm, Staff Writer
On Thursday, March 1, Hofstra University kicked off the 63rd annual Shakespeare Festival with its production of "Much Ado about Nothing." Attending the debut performance, I was impressed by the cast's ability to capture the wit of their lines as well as the eccentricities of their characters.
The plot revolves around the machinations of princes Don Pedro and Don John, brothers who find entertainment in manipulating those around them into and out of love. Don Pedro, the good prince, tries to match Beatrice and Benedick, who are engaged in a mutual dislike and a constant battle of wits. Don John, the so-called "bastard prince", attempts to tear apart Claudio and Hero, a young, naïve couple. "Much Ado About Nothing" is possibly Shakespeare's most widely known and celebrated comedy. The play pokes fun at the idle lives of socialites as well as the fickle and ridiculous nature of love. The sophisticated humor and the large number of colorful characters make for a well-rounded comedy. The language of the play is probably more accessible than that of most Shakespearean plays so most audience members will not have to worry about being lost in translation. However, some may fail to appreciate the play's sophisticated wit and general comedic approach.
This particular production, directed by Jean Giebel, is set on Long Island after World War I. I was personally comfortable with this particular choice, especially since the music of that era (which is used as accompaniment) fits in with the action of the play quite nicely. The elaborate and beautifully constructed set, which consists of a large Long Island estate, reminds the audience of the high status of the characters as well as the idleness of their lives.
This production's biggest asset is the talent of its ensemble cast. Max Baudisch and Amelia Kreski are the standouts of the production. Baudisch is hysterically smug and quirky as Benedick and Kreski executes perfectly the scathing wit and cynicism of Beatrice. Together they share undeniable chemistry and their rapport draws the majority of the show's laughs. In addition to their comical attributes, they both succeed in showing the vulnerability and depth of their outlandish characters. Zach Leipert gives a noteworthy performance as Dogberry, the bumbling constable. The bizarre nature of the character as well as his many malapropisms is the source of much humor, and Leipert delivers every ridiculous line with just the right amounts of seriousness and exaggeration. Alan Stentiford shows wide range as Claudio, capturing the naivety of a young man in love as well as the intensity of someone who has been betrayed. The only disappointment is the trio of performances turned in by the actors playing the shows more villainous characters. Though portraying devious manipulators, they are not quite as menacing as they should be and their performances are for the most part bland, especially when compared to their costars.
Acting in a comedy may very well be harder than acting in a drama. Actors must master timing, capture the uniqueness of their characters, and create excellent chemistry with those on stage. In this case, the task of interpreting the Shakespearean language only heightens the challenge. For the most part, this particular cast was up to the challenge.