LTO pulls out all the stops
Little Theater of Owatonna’s production of Much Ado About Nothing is an over-the-top theatrical spectacle. Jazz music and flapper costumes, a giant set and a three hour runtime, this is no small affair of the heart. Jeffery Jackson’s vision of Shakespeare is not the bare stage of the bard’s time, but a production as decadent as Shakespearean language.
His choice to set the romantic comedy in the jazz age works well. The lords returning from battle are now WWI soldiers, and the fear of unchaste women makes sense in the era of shortening flapper skirts and looser morals.
If the jazz age peters out at any point, it comes with the music itself. The background music is authentic to the time. While that’s a commendable nod to accuracy, in these modern times it can drag, especially during dance numbers where a heavier beat or more lyrics would be appreciated. If you’re a jazz aficionado, however, you may feel free to turn your nose up at such a blasphemous suggestion.
A welcome new place the production explores is its interpretation of the bumbling nights watch. Dogberry and his squad are considered some of Shakespeare’s best clowns, and Jackson has not let their comedic gold fall by the wayside. They open the second act with a silent black and white training film. In the spirit of Chaplin and Buster Keaton, they fumble and scheme. It’s re-imagining at its best. You see something you didn’t even realize you were waiting to.
The emphasis on comedy is consistent for the whole plot. While there are cute moments between the leading couples, the actors really shine in their individual clowning. Beatrice and Benedick falling in love is fun, but not nearly as much fun as watching the two dive into bushes and under legs to avoid being spotted eavesdropping. Cody Jensen and Betsy Cole, as the bickering pair, deserve a special nod for their commitment to getting a laugh. It is not a wasted effort.
Going into the production, members of the cast had expressed their concern about the Shakespearean dialogue. It’s not totally misplaced unease. As of the first weekend, some members of the cast were still grappling with the dense verse, but many more soared than stumbled. Shakespeare was a master of one-liners, and when those lines hit, laughter follows. No translation needed.
If you’re a fan of Shakespeare, you may rest easy knowing you’re in for a night of fun with a fresh take on his work. If the dear bard has not yet fallen into your acquaintance, now might be the time to meet him and find out what all the to do is about.