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Theater review: ‘Much Ado’ at Glensheen offers stunning scenery, earnest performances

Antony Ferguson (center), as the Friar, prepares to marry Ben Glisczinski (Claudio) and Madison Lang (Hero) during a scene from the play "Much Ado About Nothing" at a rehearsal last week. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

Shakespeare's Leonato should have been so lucky as to have Duluth's majestic Glensheen for his Italian estate. In this latest iteration of Shakespeare's comedy about lovers deceived, “Much Ado About Nothing,” Stage 2 Theatre Company of the University of Minnesota Duluth chose the intriguing option of having the set already done for them on the grounds of the beautiful lakeside mansion.

The questions then present themselves. Did it work? Was it a good idea? Did they pull it off? But first, the premise. Don Pedro (Ian Wallin) and company descend upon the villa of Leonato (Chandler Oja). Hilarity and scandal ensue.

While the central story is the rumor spread about Leonato's daughter Hero (Madison Lang) about her being unfaithful to Claudio (Ben Peter) on the eve of their wedding, the focus is inexorably pulled toward the sworn bachelor Benedick (Addison Sim) and the focus of his “he doth protest too much” dislike for Leonato's niece Beatrice (Alyson Enderle). And in this show, rightfully so.

Sim and Enderle give captivating and playful performances in their roles, navigating the scandal around them, their determination to set things right and Shakespeare’s prose with a naturalness and facility that pull the audience deeper into the play and into the performances of the actors around them. Enderle, especially, is beautifully cast by director Simon VanVactor-Lee, deftly hitting every comedic note with astute timing. The pair's chemistry in the course of their obvious courtship is charming and biting at turns.

While Lang and Peter turn in laudable performances as the doomed lovers, their depth and chemistry with each other and with Shakespeare’s words aren't as palpable. Wallin as the ringleader bon vivant is a delightfully comedic actor well suited to his role. Another standout performance was turned in by Antony Ferguson, doing triple duty as Balthasar, Dogberry the Constable and Friar Francis. His deadpan delivery and musicianship add solid footing to the production.

All of these actors, including supporting roles from E.R. Brock, as Don Pedro's deceitful brother Don John and as Hero's friend Margaret, work doggedly taking on multiple roles. The costume changes and assuming the qualities of whole characters is not an easy feat. The actors' stamina shows in their total commitment.

Did it work? The plan was to have the audience move around to three locations on the estate grounds. The vision is a brilliant way to present the play. The execution could be improved. The arrangement of chairs on level with the action made it difficult to see all of the actors and appreciate the earnest performances.

Had the actors performed outdoors in each location on an elevated platform, the audience would have been better served. But, that didn't take away from some standout performances over the 90-minute show.

Was it a good idea? Absolutely. Theater should always be pushing boundaries and opening up new interpretations. Did they pull it off? Yes. While some of the deeper motifs of infidelity, shaming and gender roles are muddled and faded to favor the comedy in this production, it can be argued that this iteration of “Much Ado About Nothing” is a light introduction that invites further interest in the play. Ultimately, that is successful theater.

IF YOU GO

What: “Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare

When: Tuesdays and Thursdays June 12-28 at 7 p.m.

Where: Glensheen, 3300 London Road

Cost: Free. Room for 50.

More information: glensheen.org

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