Much Ado About Nothing

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday August 6, 2018

Christine Pavao and Hannah Heckman-McKenna in "Much Ado About Nothing," presented by Head Trick Theatre through August 12.
Christine Pavao and Hannah Heckman-McKenna in "Much Ado About Nothing," presented by Head Trick Theatre through August 12.  

Head Trick Theatre has come up with a wildly entertaining production of William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."

The story focuses on the relationship between two couples: Beatrice and Benedick, Claudio and Hero, and the manipulations of others around them.

The play, written in 1598, is apparently based on a story in a collection of stories by Italian writer Matteo Bandello, originally published in 1554 and translated into English in 1582. Some plot elements and characters may have been inspired by a lengthy Italian poem, "Orlando Furioso" by Ludovico Aristo, originally published in 1532 and translated into English in 1591.

What's special about this version is director Rebecca Maxfield's choice to portray Benedick as a woman, showing us a loving same-sex relationship in the distant past.

Hannah Heckman-McKenna and Christine Pavao have a sizzling chemistry as Benedick and Beatrice, who do not get along all that well at first. Time and circumstances gradually melt their hostilities until they realize the depth of their feelings for one another. Of course, they have unsolicited assistance from people close to them.

Head Trick's most recent productions of "Gabriel" and "God of Vengeance" also placed the female characters front and center. Beatrice and Benedick are two very strong-willed women who are never victims or subservient to men. Heckman-McKenna creates a dynamic and textured woman who refuses to be manipulated by others. Pavao starred in "Gabriel" and delivers another outstanding performance here. The two actresses carry this show.

The large cast is filled with capable performers, including Geoffrey Besser as the mercurial soldier Claudio, who rages at an alleged betrayal by Hero (a luminous Valearie Kane). Their relationship undergoes some rocky moments courtesy of the villainous Don John (Ibrahima Tylar Jahumpa), the "bastard prince" who plots to stop their wedding.

I also liked Devon Andrews, who provides a regal authority as Don Pedro and David Adams Murphy as Leonato, Beatrice's uncle.

Staged in Roger Williams National Park, Maxfield involves the audience in the shenanigans as invitations to Claudio and Hero's wedding are handed out, and everyone is invited to dance with the characters at the reception.

The outdoor location benefits the production tremendously, giving it a realism a regular theater could not provide.

The costume design was imaginative, with the handmaidens Margaret and Ursula wearing what looked like pink waitress uniforms and Dogberry (a constable), and his men sporting orange construction worker vests.

"Much Ado About Nothing" has many similarities to Shakespeare's other comedies. There's a lot of zaniness and secret identities. It all works splendidly. Earlier this year, the Gamm presented "As You Like It," which also featured two strong female characters in love. The underlying message is that love can happen to anyone and can survive whatever barriers are placed in its way. It's inspiring, and a tonic to the hate which is running rampant in today's world.

Shakespeare would no doubt approve.

"Much Ado About Nothing" runs through August 12. Head Trick Theatre. For more information, the theater company's website.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.