The cast of Looking for Lilith’s production of Much Ado About Nothing.
Photo courtesy of Looking for Lilith.
Much Ado about Nothing
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Kathi E. B. Ellis
A review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
It’s no secret that Shakespeare liked to write about the relationship between men and women and how their gender roles take an active part in the goings on of the rising action and conflict whether it was in his tragedies or comedies. In Elizabethan England, where each part was played by a man, the perception of the female characters might have come across as a parody or caricature. But what if the company of actors were a troupe of women? Would Benedict still be a stubborn romantic opposite to Beatrice’s headstrong attitude? How would Don Jon’s snide manipulation come across, if played by a woman? Would Claudio and Hero’s against-all-odds conflict still hold the same effect when two women play the parts? Looking for Lilith’s all female production of Much Ado about Nothingproves that whether or not these roles were played by men or women, the games of the heart are universally non-gendered.

With a stripped down, bare bones set consisting of a ladder and some blocks, director Kathi E.B. Ellis incorporates elements of Greek theater into her production. Prefacing each scene with a brief tableau using various animal masks that hang from the upstage wall and a placard with a quote from the corresponding scene, the concept makes the language of the play more relatable to those who might be afraid of the Bard’s verse. A smart and clever tactic to incorporate for sure, this theme fell flat at times in such a small space. This production is held in the Alley Theater’s small black box which didn’t always allow for a quick transition between tableau and scene. Regardless of this minor setback, incorporating the tableaus and masks prompted me to ask more questions regarding Shakespeare script: questions about which character is being honest, who’s tricking whom and who’s hiding from themselves.

Taking such questions into consideration, the individual performances come to mind. As the squabbling couple, Beatrice and Benedict, Shannon Woolley Allison and Karole Spangler are tricked into believing that they love one another but here’s the truth: they really do! Allison and Spangler have a beautiful chemistry as the comedic lovers. Allison’s Beatrice is sassy and smart while Spangler’s Benedict is a strong yet foolish in the ways of romance. Watching these two bicker back and forth is just as fun as watching them fall in love. Dawn Schulz plays Claudio and Natalie Fields plays Don Pedro, friends of Benedict. These ladies provide very strong performances as a couple of gentlemen playing with love. The secret to capturing the masculine nature of these characters was not to focus on “being male” but to bring the non-gendered aspects to life. Fields and Schulz prove that gender doesn’t matter when portraying men in love or men seeking to trick fools into love.

Other notable performances belong to Laura Ellis in a cartoonish take on the constable, Dogberry. Her vocal twang and pelvic-led struts were juxtaposed against Spangler’s subtle portrayal of a traditional male role. Janelle-Renee Hunnicutt as Don John was conniving and malicious. Arguably, her portrayal of the ever stoic and cruel bastard brother of Don Pedro was perhaps the most indefinable of the gender roles both in Shakespeare’s script and in director Ellis’ production.

Looking for Lilith has assembled a finely crafted production of Much Ado about Nothing, a comedy that showcases the struggles and victories of characters finding the balance of male and female gender roles inside their relationships with each other.

Much Ado about Nothing
October 4-6, 11-13 @ 7:30pm
Looking for Lilith Theater Company at
The Alley Theater
1205 East Washington Street
Louisville, KY 40205