Posted by Bruce Miller
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Much Ado About Nothing this evening, produced by Richmond Shakespeare at the spanking new Gottwald Playhouse. I’m ashamed to admit there have been more Richmond Shakespeare productions I haven’t seen than ones I have. Having thus disclaimed, let me say that this was my favorite Richmond Shakespeare production thus far.
Here’s what I enjoyed:
Shakespeare presented with a full rather than a truncated cast;
the “major role” talent and stage presence of Chris Blake, lavished on a tiny part;
the sincerity and beauty of Liz Blake—perfect for Hero;
seeing Ryan Capps back on stage in Richmond (our gain, Philadelphia’s loss);
Jonathan Conyers demonstration, in the major role of Claudio, of his unique ability to be manly and adorable at the same time—I’m looking forward to Jonathan as Bo in Bus Stop, coming up next at Hanover Tavern;
Stacie Rearden Hall’s beautiful singing voice;
Sarah Jamillah Johnson, a drop-dead-gorgeous Beatrice with admirable mettle;
the haunted intelligence that Billy Christopher Maupin brings to Don John, even if his boyish good looks sometimes seem at odds with his intensity (enjoy the bgl while you can, B. C.);
the power demonstrated by Thomas Nowlin as he reprises his post-wedding Friar speech (Thomas appeared in the same role, to equally good effect, at the Virginia Shakespeare Festival in Williamsburg last summer);
seeing Alan Sader on stage again—it’s been too long, Alan;
the quick wit, and physical and facial dexterity of T J Simmons, who as Benedick makes Shakespearean dialogue seem like he’s making it up in the moment;
the commanding presence of Dave White;
the musical talents of James Wingo;
Grant’s and Molly’s deft direction, making it easy to understand and enjoy nearly every word.
Honestly, I thought the entire cast was good. I liked it when the house lights finally went out during Claudio’s lament after Hero’s supposed death. It says more about me than about the technique, but I’m never really at ease when the house lights are left on. Unfortunately, it was also during this quiet, darkened scene that we in the audience could hear the bass and percussion coming, I suppose, from the opera performance in the Carpenter Theatre next door.
What I really, really loved was seeing within the audience of about 100 at least 50 high school and/or college students, hanging on every word, and a diverse crowd that made you feel like you were at the United Nations.
The entire evening was spirited, intelligent, filled with talent, fuelled with energy, and flavored by 25 years of experience. Three cheers and many congratulations to Grant and his team for an excellent show!