This just in: STC’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is dazzling and inspired

Director Simon Godwin has whipped up a high-spirited new take on the beloved comedy set in a buzzy 2022 newsroom.

The 400-year-old battle of wits between the deliciously sharp-tongued Beatrice and Benedick erupts anew during the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s dazzling production of Much Ado About Nothing. Under the inspired direction of Simon Godwin, STC’s artistic director, a high-spirited cast led by Kate Jennings Grant as Beatrice and Rick Holmes as Benedick whip up a delightful and imaginative new take on Shakespeare’s beloved comedy.

Rick Holmes (Benedick) and Kate Jennings Grant (Beatrice) in ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ Photo by Tony Powell.

Here, Beatrice and Benedick have morphed into preening co-anchors on SNN (Shakespeare News Network). They trade their legendary barbs as fawning staff attend to them with lint rollers, preparing them for prime time. The lovely Hero (Nicole King) and her fiancé, Claudio (Paul Deo Jr.), cover sports and weather respectively.

Terrance Fleming, Quinn M. Johnson, Raven Lorraine, and Dave Quay (Constable Dogberry) in ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ Photo by Tony Powell.

Leonato (Edward Gero), the newscast’s avuncular producer, practices his putts on an office green. The malaprop-prone Constable Dogberry (Dave Quay) is head of SNN Security. Don John (Justin Adams), the bastard brother of corporate executive Don Pedro (Carlo Albán), snorts cocaine as he contemplates villainy. Most of the time, this reimagining of Shakespeare’s beloved characters lands precisely on target.

Sarah Corey, Kate Jennings Grant (Beatrice), Rick Holmes (Benedick), and Nicole King (Hero) in ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ Photo by Tony Powell.

All manner of contemporary cultural bits stud this lively production. Who needs eyewitness accounts of supposed treachery when iPhones and omnipresent surveillance cameras are there to record fake news. Godwin even finds a new use for flame retardant.

The newsroom setting provides a clever way of commenting on other Shakespearean plays. Breaking news read rapid-fire interrupts the script, alerting us to the latest fatalistic adventures of Hamlet, King Lear, Antony, and Cleopatra.

Grant and Holmes give first-rate performances as the couple who love to hate before succumbing to what we know all along — they are desperately gobsmacked by one another. Watch them skate to the precipice of falling in love, teeter, and claw their way back to the cliffs of imperious disdain until Beatrice finally admits, “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.” Delight in the pair’s hilarious physical comedy as they vamp around (and in) rolling garbage bins, lurk behind potted plants, and flatten themselves under couches, hiding in plain sight as the other characters trick them into believing that each is suffering from unrequited love.

Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge creates countless confections for the eye. The revolving stage transports us from the newsroom to the C-Suite, the masked ball to Dogberry’s scruffy security office. Rows of TV monitors, exactly what you would find in a major newsroom, thrum with identical, repeated images worthy of Andy Warhol.

Costume Designer Evie Gurney has a field day with outfits that expand on the mirth. Beatrice’s first ensemble, a form-fitting dress with jagged decorations, seems inspired by a mouthful of shark’s teeth. Benedick’s increasingly foppish wear culminates with an ensemble spiked by the brightest pink possible. The masked ball is pure eye candy, with spangled dresses and superhero get-ups.

The cast of ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ Photo by Tony Powell.

So successful is Godwin’s overall production that the supposed betrayal of Claudio by Hero seems especially anachronistic. While even in a more traditional production it is sometimes difficult for modern audiences to accept how easily Hero’s fiancé and father turn against her, it seems downright perplexing in the context of “MeToo” era America. How could such a modern woman working in a presumably “woke” environment be so misbelieved? The action bogs down a little while we try to readjust our expectations.

And yet, the tug-of-war between Claudio’s accusations and Hero’s denial of impropriety gives Beatrice and Benedick a chance to truly connect. Stretching toward each other beyond the whacky burlesque of Godwin’s production, the two exhibit a nuanced, shape-shifting humanity that endears them to us over centuries of performances. Whether set in a buzzy 2022 newsroom or Elizabethan-era Europe, Beatrice and Benedick offer a timeless life-affirming tribute to the power of love.

Running Time: Two hours 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission

Much Ado About Nothing plays through December 11, 2022, at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall — 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets ($35–$120) call 202-547-1122 or purchase them online. Special discounts are available for military, students, seniors, and patrons aged 35 and under. Contact the Box Office at 202-547-1122 or visit ShakespeareTheatre.org for more information.

The program for Much Ado About Nothing is online here.

Open-captioned performances will be on Thursday, December 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 26 at 2:00 p.m.

An audio-described performance will be on Saturday, December 3 at 2:00 p.m.

COVID Safety: Masks are REQUIRED on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays. Masks are RECOMMENDED on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The Shakespeare Theatre’s complete COVID Heath and Safety Policy is here.

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