Review: Faith American Brewing Company and Kelsey Grammer Bring a Mid-Century “Much Ado” to the East Village

BY: Stephanie Pietros

Much Ado About Nothing

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Thomas G. Waites
Presented by Faith American Brewing Company and Kelsey Grammer at the Gene Frankel Theatre
24 Bond Street, Manhattan, NYC
June 7-30, 2024 [Update: Extended to July 7, 2024]

With a minimalist set and a mere nod to the 1940s in its costuming, Much Ado About Nothing at the Gene Frankel Theater, directed by Thomas G. Waites, overwhelmingly relied on its cast to make one of Shakespeare’s most iconic romantic comedies legible for a modern audience. Led by a stellar Beatrice (Aislinn Evans), a charming and versatile Don Pedro (Jacque Coqueran), and some genuinely hilarious minor characters (Matt McGlade as Borachio and Ursala, Arnie Mazer as Dogberry, and John Galligan as Verges) and supported by the original musical stylings of Cedric Allen Hills as Balthazar, the acting in this production ultimately underscored the uncomfortable moments in the play that, even if they are subsumed by the happy ending, linger for the audience to contemplate.

While the play’s famous moments regarding Beatrice and Benedick—their overwrought vows against love and each other and their peers’ plots to force admissions of love—are bound to translate well to a modern audience innately attuned to the conventions of romantic comedy, the acting allowed these moments to shine. Aislinn Evans’s Beatrice was witty and charming in equal measure, and Artur Ignatenko’s Benedick showcased a range of approaches to the character, sometimes foolish, sometimes witty, and gained strength over the course of the production. Jacque Coqueran’s Don Pedro figured him as part playboy, part comic, leading the men’s antics with his spot-on timing. Borachio, Dogberry, and Verges, in their roles in the plot against Hero and then to uncover it, provided the audience with a great deal of uncomplicated humor, particularly in Dogberry’s delivery of the case against Borachio and Conrad.

The play’s treatment of Hero, set up to seem unfaithful in a plot orchestrated by Don Pedro’s disaffected brother Don John and then publicly shamed by Claudio, who leaves her at the altar, as well as her father, is perhaps the hardest to play as acceptable to a modern audience, despite the supposed lesson Claudio is taught by the trick played on him and the seemingly uncomplicated happy ending for this couple. The acting in this part of the production leaned into the discomfort in these scenes, with ill-timed humor from Benedick and most especially in the over-the-top portrayal of the Friar (Jordan Bell), rendering this character nearly a caricature, seemingly at odds with the wisdom he should have due to his status as clergy and as the one male character who avows Hero’s innocence in this scene. Nonetheless, that such a laughable figure was initially Hero’s only male champion underscored just how much the deck is stacked against women, how mere rumor and suggestion is enough to ruin their reputations and lives, and how they are reliant on deeply flawed men if that reputation is to be recovered—a reminder just as relevant today as in Shakespeare’s time.


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