Presented by Hub Theatre Company of Boston
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed and Adapted by Bryn Boice
Stage Managed by Madeline Hartrich and Kelsey Whipple
November 14 – 21, 2020
Review by Gillian Daniels
YOUTUBE – The Hub Theatre Company of Boston is a fixture of our local theater scene. The shows I’ve watched from them over the years vary in content and theme, but going to one of their productions has always had a warm familiarity. To my delight, I found that director Bryn Boice’s online adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing for the pandemic age is no exception. This silly, sweet take on one of the Bard’s comedies is not just made for the moment but feels as if it’s made for the whole of the Boston theater community.
Winking references to COVID-19 and zoom aren’t confined to throwaway jokes but reshape the entirety of the story. Rather than a war, Benedick (a slick and charming Jon Vellante), Claudio (Jamie Hernandez, who’s delightful as a swooning romantic), Don John (Michael John Ciszewski, chewing scenery and serving sass), and Don Pedro (the bright and cheerful Nettie Chickering) are medical professionals working their way through the pandemic. Their frontlines are the corridors of a hospital. Regine Vital’s Leonata, an enthusiastic, tender, gender-swapped Leonato, and her daughter, the gentle Hero (Micheline Wu), host a party for them as a much-deserved break.
Shakespeare’s text now includes Florida beaches in July, stimulus checks, and troubleshooting video conferences with friends and family. I can understand some audiences having little patience with such a playfully elastic take on Much Ado, but it’s absolutely my jam and I chuckled more than a few times. Hearing Vital’s Leonata gently mock our heroine with, “Dear Beatrice, I hope to one day see you swipe right,” is not a moment I will soon forget. Similarly, Dogberry (Johnny Kinsman) and his gang of incompetent law enforcers use online lingo in a peculiar if entertaining amalgamation of past and present. This is a play that treats reality as permeable and strange, regularly and merrily bulldozing through the fourth wall. Nationally, we’re in a strange moment, so why pretend otherwise?
The core of the text, for me, is not the uncomfortable slut-shaming of Hero and her eventual reconciliation with (an undeserving, in my opinion) Claudio, but the banter between our romantic leads, Benedick and Beatrice (Lauren Elias). This production keeps their chemistry intact. Elias’s Beatrice has cutting wit and vivacious chutzpah. She effortlessly trades barbs with Vellante’s charming Benedick. I love their attempts to hide themselves on zoom calls when listening in on the friends who have decided to pair them together.
I was also deeply charmed by Conrade (a joyful Jessica Golden) and Borachio (an exceptionally hilarious Lorraine Kanyike), who play a pair of slacker bros in the service of the perpetually sneering Don John and his cartoonishly malevolent machinations. What could all become a tragedy, however, instead ascends into a harmless prank. And a dance party.
What a contrast this show is from plays that premiered online right after the closings in March, where theaters scrambled to adjust to digital venues. Boice’s production is warm and self-assured. While there remains no replacement for a live experience, this Much Ado About Nothing is a welcome respite.