Dallas — The pantheon of the Bard’s best loved comedies is extensive and fraught with opportunities for visual and verbal delight. Foremost among them for many is Much Ado About Nothing. As the title suggests there is plenty within (plots and subplots, villains and heroes, and lovers spurned) yet there is little to fret over because it all works out in the end. True, however the best productions of the play are still life and love-affirming.
The Junior Players, in collaboration with Shakespeare Dallas, wrap up the summer season with a big top-inspired bang with their colorful and charming version of Much Ado. This year’s young actors range between the ages of 15 to 19 and come from 11 different North Texas high schools to put on one of the finest versions of the play I’ve seen at any level.
Guided by the sure hands of co-directors Anastasia Muñoz and Montgomery Sutton (with inspired circus direction by Micah Figueroa) this talented group of performers create a world of whimsy informed by the pitfalls and joys of love.
The directors set their Much Ado in a camp of the “Mesmerizing Messina Twins’ Circus” (Lily Monday as Antonia and Shy’Peria Brown as Leonata) and it’s a fitting environment for oddballs and outcasts. Don Pedro (Cal Thompson) and a cadre of soldiers return to the camp from a victorious war against Don Pedro’s half-brother Don John (Jakob Way) and there is an uneasy peace sprinkled into the joyous homecoming. The main story, although often subjugated for good reason, follows the inevitable nuptials of young lovers Claudio (Christian Arrubla) and Hero (Heaven-Leigh Pettis). The evil Don John endeavors to thwart their plans because, in his own words, he is a “plain-dealing villain.” The more intriguing pairing is between Beatrice (Lauren Harrison) and Benedick (David Allen Norton) who have long carried on a “kind of merry war” war of wits and words that keeps them (reluctantly?) apart.
Benedick and Beatrice throw “shade” at each other because they are both too stubborn to express their true feelings. This version built around young actors adds even more insight into the themes of vulnerability and relational dynamics already in the play.
Junior Players consistently elicits great talent and this show is no different. The entire ensemble is quite strong. Particularly noteworthy is Pettis’ Hero who is a vision of grace and innocence, and Arrubla as Claudio who, although subdued at first, comes alive during the matchmaking plot against Benedick. Darnell Robinson’ Dogberry is formidable constable; it’s a pity that any comedic momentum he buils was lost in a faulty mic during the show reviewed. LaDareus Bagley’s bad guy Borachio is also a delight.
Harrison and Norton as the leads really shine together in believable chemistry. Harrison’s Beatrice is outspoken, and bold, She’s an effective combination of confidence and youthful giddiness. Norton as Benedick is a cocksure playboy who wields his physicality and facility with the words beautifully.
Co-directing can be hazardous even in the best of circumstances but Muñoz and Sutton craft a show that is effectively paced and highlights the loveliness of the language while emphasizing dazzling spectacle. Sutton also oversees all of the appropriately catchy music. "Hey Nonny Nonny" and "Pardon Godess of the Night" were created and provided by Composer Kara Arena. Jean C. Gonzalez emphasizes the feeling of the big top with a set draped in reds and golds featuring a backdrop of vintage-looking circus posters with the actors’ likenesses. Also stellar is Bruce Coleman’s colorful circus garb of gauze and silks with the soldiers in period attire yet maintaining a whimsical splash of color in their tights.
All of these design and performance elements coalesce into a truly moving and magical night at the theater—and that never gets old.