‘Much Ado About’ modernization

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First Posted: 1/20/2014

Bringing Shakespeare’s works into the modern realm can sometimes be a daunting task, but the Gaslight Theatre Company has certainly found a way to do it – and it starts with a little thing called Vine.

“It has been an absolute blast,” Meaghan Fadden, who plays Hero in Gaslight’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” said of the Vine videos the cast has been posting.

A quick look at Gaslight’s Facebook page shows several videos of the cast (Vine handle: gaslightwb), short snippets that depict them horsing around on set and during rehearsals. It’s all part of a greater plan: to make the Bard’s work more accessible to audiences.

“We’ve tried to make this show less scary to our audience through our marketing campaign,” Fadden continued. “We’ve done a lot of Vine videos and posted them to Facebook to give them a sneak peak, a preview, to put the audience at ease, let them know we’re going to make this as easy and with as normal language as possible.”

The content of “Much Ado” also contributes to that, being a comedic play with characters and themes that are smoothly carried from way back when to now.

“Much Ado” tells the story of two couples: Beatrice (Lydia Traill) and Benedick (John Segear), who may not yet realize the love they have for one another, and Hero (Fadden) and Claudio (Jason Alfano), who are completely smitten right off the bat. The relationships don’t exactly go smoothly for both couples.

“The circumstances that make Hero and Claudio’s courtship a little less simple are exterior roadblocks, whereas the roadblocks for Beatrice and Benedict are all within themselves,” director Kristen Peterman said. “You’re looking at two couples that have to reach their happy ending by overcoming either external or internal obstacles. It gets as serious as it does funny.”

Fadden’s character is the cousin of Beatrice, and it is her wedding that’s a big catalyst for the way both couples grow throughout. Hero is smitten with Claudio, who she is quickly betrothed to – though the nuptials are anything but perfect.

“We get to the wedding and all kinds of things happen that you would never wish upon anybody to happen on their wedding day,” Fadden said with a laugh. “That’s kind of where the plot really gets exciting. There’s just all these misunderstandings, mistaken identities; that’s where it all begins. That’s also where the relationship between Beatrice and Benedict really takes a turn and it becomes something other than what it was in Act 1.”

“The main interaction between Beatrice and Benedict… They have a very back-and-forth, witty, sarcastic relationship,” Fadden said, “and I think it’s one of those relationships that you try so hard and there’s so many reasons you shouldn’t like this person or be attracted to this person and you just can’t help it. It comes across so well in this show that it immediately makes you feel like it’s a little bit more relatable to contemporary times, to your own life, and I think that makes it a little bit easier to grasp.”

Claudio himself is a rich and relatable character, a young soldier just returned from war.

“It’s been fun playing Claudio because he’s basically just a naïve overdramatic kid who doesn’t know much about life or love,” Alfano said. “He reacts to almost everything that happens to him in the play to the extreme. Like, he meets this pretty girl that he hasn’t ever spoken to, then confesses his overwhelming love of her to Benedick and Don Pedro in the next scene. There’s other examples of this, too, but he’s just a young, passionate, yet impulsive dude, to say the least.”

And, in a rare twist, the on-stage lovers are actually dating in real life.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Fadden said of playing opposite Alfano. “It certainly makes all of our interactions a little bit more real. It’s easier to run lines, it’s easier to really be open and talk about characterization and. ‘How do you think Claudio would do this?’ ‘I think hero would do that.’ It makes it more of an open dialogue, which is helpful as an actor.”

“The happy, lovey-dovey scenes are a snap because we already have a good real relationship offstage, which means we basically don’t even need to ‘act,’” Alfano said. “It’s when we get into the more serious, kind of angry, scenes where we’ve had trouble. I’m supposed to be furious and yelling at her, but there have been many times where I make direct eye contact and we just both break out of character in a fit of laughter.”

As with every Shakespeare piece, “Much Ado” is rife with themes that go from one end of the spectrum to the next, much more than the relatable relationships.

“Another theme that runs throughout is gender roles,” Fadden said. “Beatrice is very outspoken, she’s very witty, she’s sarcastic, she’s not afraid; she puts herself on the same level as any guy or girl in the entire show. It’s easy to see there’s part of Beatrice that’s in every woman; she’s feisty, she’s ballsy, and that’s that part of the girl in all of us that we’re always rooting for.”

“From my character’s perspective, I think Claudio shows the importance of communication when in a relationship,” Alfano said. “His actions exemplify how terribly wrong things can be in a relationship that lacks good communication. He’s also a good example of how maturity is gained through our successes and failures in love.”

However, none of this would shine through without a proficient cast, which Peterman said she has in spades.

“We have an incredibly talented cast that’s completely at home with this language, with deciphering exactly what it’s trying to say,” she said. “That really comes through on stage, and they’re just a blast to watch.”