Much Ado About Nothing Review

“Much Ado About Nothing” is a tragicomedy written by Shakespeare. The play revolves around the story of a romantic couple: Hero, daughter of the governor of Messina, and Claudio, a count from Florence. “Much Ado” frequently diverges into the gossipings that surrounds Hero’s cousin Beatrice and Claudio’s friend Benedick. A version of the play, adapted and directed by Rose Palmieri ’24 as her honors thesis project, was put on in the Frear Theater this past weekend.

“The cicadas,” I murmured to myself after finding a seat on the top row in the accessible seating area. I kept this inner dialogue with myself going, “They remind me of my time in Sparta last summer.” It makes sense. After all, Messina, Italy, where the play was set, is very similar to Sparta due to their geographical vicinity. Reflecting on this, the “singing” of the cicadas playing in the background was indeed the first thing that caught my attention. It set the play well for a relaxed summer evening where a twisted plot of romance is about to take place. 

Having sat down, I started to skim around the room, laying my eyes on the different props and parts of the staging. The framed photo of Hero and Claudio’s wedding on the nightstand; the open yet obscure window by the spiral staircase; and the use of various lightings across the theater. I am shocked by the number of thoughts that go into the design behind. But this stretches beyond what is visible in the room. The subtle change from Leonato to Leanata and the careful attention to the use of pronouns —  the adaptation is elevated by its close attention to details. But despite these modern refinements, the adaptation was still able to bring out the ambience of a Jacobean play. It preserves most of the original lines from Shakespeare, saving the puns and bringing about laughter even among our modern Swarthmore audience.

One special feature of “Much Ado” was the inclusion of ASL interpretation. Upon walking into the theater, one immediately notices the sign pointing audience members to “General or Accessible Seating.” The theater’s traverse staging, which separates the audience into two sides with an elongated stage in the middle, makes ASL interpretation lucid and visible. I have no prior experience with ASL (apart from knowing that it is a really cool class offered by the linguistic department!) and this is my first time seeing ASL interpretation in a public performance. It was nothing like I imagined. The dialogue was conveyed through hand gestures between the two interpreters, but it was their rich facial expressions that really brought the play to life. Sitting on the side, it is fascinating to see how ASL speakers communicate across the stage using various ways of expression. One thing that really intrigued me was the “hand-shaking” instead of clapping as a form of expressing gratitude and appreciation at the end of the play. It was heartwarming to see how many, including myself, were initially caught off guard but soon joined in.

The play is also very diverse in terms of involving students from all parts of the college. Although several plays earlier this semester have also involved non-theater majors, “Much Ado” is different in that almost the entire cast are students from other departments. The play even constituted several cast members’ acting debuts, or at least their first production at Swarthmore.

While reading the Director’s Note after the play, I saw how Palmieri talked about “the question of Hero’s silence.” The question stuck with her after she performed a scene from “Much Ado About Nothing” back in high school and inspired her to make this adaptation. Palmieri wants to tell “a story that could explain her silence.” Perhaps due to my insufficient knowledge of the original work, I am not quite sure of how well her silence is being explained, but one thing I can say is that Hero does have a voice and it is heard in this adaptation.

This adaptation is a play that I would love to watch again. I would like to feel once again the stichomythia shared between Margaret and Hero, the long soliloquies by Claudio, and of course the solitude under a fair summer night.

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