Bailey Klei, Nicholas Gabis, Ian Fitzgerald (under the platform), Zye Reid, Davey Ottino, & Aubrie Klei in Much Ado Nothing. Photo: Tom Fougerousse

Much Ado About Nothing

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jennifer Pennington

A review by Kate Barry

Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

Tomfoolery rules the stage as Shakespeare gets turned on his head in the University of Louisville’s Department of Theater Arts production of Much Ado About Nothing. A troupe of bright performers puts on the romantic comedy with vigor while adding some meta deconstruction and Gen-Z flair. Packed with irreverence, this rendition of Much Ado serves up a lot of charm.

From the moment the pre-show recording is interrupted, it is firmly established that this ain’t your grandma’s Shakespeare, nor should it be. With a cast playing multiple characters, some of whom change parts right in front of your eyes, the energy remains infectious from start to finish. The play leans into the comedic structure with some strong payoffs and a few misses. As we find ourselves in a post-Barbie world full of TikTok, these young theater artists create a strong ensemble. At times the fourth wall is broken with nearly mumbled remarks about the outdated story line and lines containing the literal phrase “much ado” are followed by a jovial “get it.” Self-aware cheekiness remains a constant amusement as actors yell at the backstage crew for oversized props, missed technical cues, and babble over a megaphone. While these moments are fun, other comedic bits involving the repetition of the word “knave” and a full cast sing-along of the Scooby Doo theme song felt nearly out of place. Considering a potential audience viewer unfamiliar with the play, I wonder if any of these comedic bits helped or hindered their understanding of the main action between Beatrice, Benedick, Hero, and all the rest of the company of Messina.

As Benedick and Beatrice, Ian Fitzgerald and Jennifer Reyes bring relentless likability as the sparring foes turned lovers. Fitzgerald’s Benedick is a vapid bachelor who thinks very little of marriage while Reye’s Beatrice thinks very little of men and much less of marriage. Fitzgerald and Reyes have well-crafted comedic reactions as they hear the shocking rumors of love and attraction. Relying on heightened physical comedy, Fitzgerald does well to tumble, dash, and crawl all over the stage while Reyes gets just as many laughs with deadpan flavor. As the villainous Don John, Davey Ottino is calculating and sneaky as they attempt to ruin true love. Zye Reid’s Don Pedro and Bailey Klei’s Leonata are strong supporting roles amidst the gossip and the hijinks at play. Aubrie Klei’s Hero is seemingly traditional in the Bard sense as she falls victim to Don John’s schemes. Klei handles the twist of this production with a tremendous amount of confidence that deserves another read of the character. Nicholas Gabis love sick Claudio is relatable as he swoons for Hero and later, in his heartbreak. 

 Much Ado About Nothing has so many elements that resonate with a young, contemporary audience, gossip, a little bit of betrayal, makeup, love, and comedy. The shenanigans are caffeinated, the humor is heightened and the energy level radiates off the stage. But let’s remember the heart and charisma of the show, which is just as abundant. 

Featuring Ian Bischoff, Tamyra Eaddy, Ian Fitzgerald, Nicholas Gabis, Ross Just, Aubrie Klei, Bailey Klei, Davey Ottino, Zye Reid, Jennifer Reyes, & Jackson Tucker 

Much Ado About Nothing

April 12-14, 17-19

University of Louisville
Department of Theater Arts
Thrust Theater
2314 South Floyd Street

Kate Barry has worked with many different companies around town since graduating in 08 from Bellarmine University. She’s worked with CenterStage, Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions. She used to work in the box office at that little performing arts center on Main Street but now she helps save the planet. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. Her play “Catcher Released” won an honorable mention with the Kentucky Playwrights Workshop. She has written for LEO Weekly and as well. When she is not writing, she teaches yoga. Thanks for reading!