Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Much Ado About This

By Meghan D'Souza
Photo by Len Struttman

Hannah Spina, Rachel Korach Howell, and Genevieve Heinrich
Iowa City - With the end of summer nearing, I've found myself looking for more reasons to spend the evenings outside. Those final hours of a summer night, when the sweet-scented humid air cools down as the sun kisses the horizon goodnight has always been a favorite of mine. Toss in a picnic and a beautifully executed classic play performed under the umbrella of aging trees, and I'm in heaven. Fourth Room Theatre offered such an experience with their performance of Much Ado About Nothing on the lawn of a gorgeous brick home, the front porch serving as the backdrop to the play.

This romantic comedy tells the story of two budding relationships. Benedick (Kehry Anson Lane) swears he'd rather stay single than marry and seemingly butts heads with Beatrice (Rachel Korach Howell) who feels the same, until friends and family interfere.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, sparks fly immediately between Claudio (Nate Jeffrey Sullivan) and Hero (Hannah Spina). However, their courtship isn't safe from the bitter Don John (K. Michael Moore), whose vicious tricks interrupt their passion.

Fourth Room Theatre boldly decided to marry 60s-era wardrobe and set design with the Shakespearean language of the play and they made it work. Much of the credit goes to the magnificent cast members, because each member of the ensemble fully encompassed their individual characters and recited their lines believably, as though the "whithers" and "thous" and "haths" really were part of their everyday speech. I find their ability to memorize their lines and recite them, not just flawlessly, but comfortably and conversationally, impressive and applaudable. Had they stumbled with the lines or recited them robotically, I think more focus would have been drawn to the non-traditional choice of wardrobe and it wouldn't have worked so well. Instead, the wardrobe and set design allowed for fun twists, including choreography set to 60s music that had the audience dancing.

Although it was a treat to watch the whole ensemble, actor Matthew James was particularly magnetic for the audience in his comedic roles as Balthasar and Verges (he was also spotted playing the Friar). As Balthasar, James serenaded the audience with such a flair to his dance moves that the audience couldn't get enough. As Verges, James found a way to change the way he held himself entirely, down to do his facial features, adding a new wave of comic relief from this character. His unique ability to morph himself completely - from his voice, to how he stood, to the way he positioned his hands - is the sign of a talented actor that made James stand out. Every time he graced the st--... erm, lawn as either of these characters, the audience giggled.

While folks walked across the tiki torch-lit lawn afterwards, I heard impressed whispers about the ensemble's talent. I definitely recommend packing a picnic, grabbing a blanket, and catching the show to create a fun summer night memory.

Much Ado About Nothing runs one more weekend: Thurs, Fri, and Sat 8/21-23. Admission is free, but Fourth Room Theatre strongly recommends making a reservation by contacting them with your name, preferred date, the number in your group, and number of vehicles in your party. Call or text 319-214-3375 or email info@fourthroomtheatre.com.

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