Herndon High School
Benedick has challenged his best friend to a duel, avowed man-hater Beatrice has agreed to get married, and everyone thinks Hero is dead… all thanks to one crazy party! In James Madison High School's most recent production, there really is much ado- about nothing.
A classic Shakespeare production, Much Ado About Nothing is the story of two sets of lovers, and the chaos that brings them both to a happy ending. First performed in the early 17th century, it features masquerades, mortification, and men being thoroughly duped- but like every comedy in Shakespeare's canon, it ends with a wedding (or two!) Benedick and Beatrice enter the show as established acquaintances who love to banter… flirtatiously. Meanwhile Claudio, Benedick's friend, falls head over heels for Hero, Beatrice's beautiful cousin. But all is not well in Messina, for the jealous Don John has returned with a scheme- to make Claudio think Hero is disloyal. It will take true love, a faked death, and some very drunk watchmen to bring everything right again.
James Madison's cast gave a stunning performance, amidst an equally stunning set. With vines and flowers blooming all over the painted-stone walls and the gentle trickle of a real fountain, set creators Nic Crews, Alex Lundquist, and Carissa Ma should be applauded. Every inch of space was used, whether for late-night romance or early-morning wedding processions. The characters embraced it all, sitting on the edge of the stage or processing down the aisles. Yet the true star of the show was the connection between the characters. There was incredible tension in the air as Benedick (Jonah Uffelman) held his sword to Claudio (Aaron Shansab)'s throat or brushed Beatrice (Mary Ulses)'s face with his hand.
Peeking out from behind a fountain while chomping on an apple, Uffelman stole the show with his wide eyes, funky dancing, and comedic timing. He had the audience laughing with even a look and delivered soliloquy after soliloquy with immense attention to detail, even shaking his hand like it was wet after dipping it into the fountain. Ulses, meanwhile, was a witty Beatrice, stealing hats from the ensemble and falling dramatically into Hero's arms. Their sweet chemistry with Uffelman was palpable, accented by gentle music as the two sat in the garden. But Ulses also demonstrated incredible range- sobbing heartbreakingly over Hero's body and fiercely confronting Benedick. The pair complemented each other well, waltzing about in a duet of banter and boast.
Katie Hindin as Hero was an angelic figure onstage, her close connection with Beatrice was clear every time they hugged or clasped hands. Her devastation as her own betrothed denounced her was tangible, sobbing on the floor in a crumple of satin. Claudio meanwhile displayed impressive persistence even as his microphone was pulled off- projecting his voice loud enough that it was barely noticeable. And the trio of watchmen (Lori Collins, Fortune Picker, Ryann Monacella) provided comic relief to the tense second act as they scrambled about and slept atop each other. The cast's hair (by Caroline Pinnock and Kathleen Sullivan) was another strong point, with evident attention to detail. Every member of the ensemble clearly had a different style, some with ribbons, some without, adding to the show's realism.
Shakespearean humor can be hard to translate to modern audiences, yet James Madison pulled it off with incredible attention to expression- Uffelman's gaping mouth and shimmy-like movements were truly a sight to behold. All in all, the detail and humor of James Madison's cast and crew created a show there certainly deserves "much ado."
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
While rain poured outside, the interior of James Madison High School's theater concealed an entirely different world - one filled with stone walls, dense greenery, and the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar. The audience was transported back to Italy's Golden Age with Madison's enrapturing performance of Much Ado About Nothing.
Penned by William Shakespeare near the end of the 16th century, Much Ado About Nothing takes place in Messina, where two couples battle gossiping peers, false accusations, and witty banter on their way to true love. Often regarded as one of Shakespeare's most lighthearted comedies, the play has delighted viewers around the world since its premier at the Globe Theater.
The classical setting and Shakespearean verse present a massive hurdle for both audiences and performers alike - one that the cast and crew of Madison's production cleared with ease. Both the actors and technicians showed incredible focus and attention to detail. Cohesive technical elements creatively enhanced the show without becoming anachronistic. Each member of the 36-person cast remained present and engaged in the story from beginning to end, culminating in an engrossing performance.
Executing the quick wit of Benedick and Beatrice in a humorously charming manner is no mean feat - something Jonah Uffelman and Mary Ulses did masterfully. As Benedick, Uffelman possessed a captivating stage presence both in his relations with other characters and his interaction with the audience while monologuing. His expert use of physical comedy and non-verbal acting shone as he overheard a staged conversation about Beatrice's love for him, wide-eyed and mouthing his surprise before tripping over himself at the discovery. Ulses's sharp-tongued Beatrice matched perfectly with Uffelman's energy, and the juxtaposition of the characters' comedic banter with her realistic tears and agonizing cries for her cousin that showcased the actress's impressive range.
Actors Aaron Shansab (Claudio) and Katie Hindin (Hero) carried the plot with a genuine portrayal of their shared love. Hindin's lilting voice and composed nature highlighted Hero's purity, and her unrestrained sobs established the despair her character felt as that image was shattered. Shansab's use of tone and projection to convey a wide range of emotion complemented Hero's reaction, creating a moment of rejection fraught with palpable sorrow. The electrifying chemistry between the two, from their full-bodied commitment to stage kisses to their secret glances at one another, formed a tangible romance.
The intricate scenery enveloped the auditorium in the world of the show. Designed by Nic Crews, the two-story set spanned the stage and extended into the audience, cleverly incorporating extra versatility to the stationary set. Focused lighting manipulated the expansive set into various smaller locations without compromising the cohesiveness of the design. Carissa Ma's set decoration transformed the wooden structures into stone walls, expertly painting rocks that seemed to glisten in the light. Her brilliant use of fake, three-dimensional foliage over top of the painted stones provided a varying textural appearance that made it all the more realistic. Led by CC Stefanik, the costumes department ensured that each character wore period-accurate clothing. Corsets, jackets, skirts, and everything in between were exquisitely adorned in varying shades of blues, greens, reds, purples, and browns. This use of color drew focus to the more prominent characters amidst the neutral-toned ensemble.
Between its committed cast, realistic technical elements, and complete use of the auditorium space, Madison's production of Much Ado About Nothing was immersive in every sense of the word, reminding us of all of the crazy, convoluted lengths people go to for love.