Love & games in Dauntless City Theatre’s delightful, immersive, gender-bending adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing

Kate Werneburg & Chanakya Mukherjee. Photo and design by Dahlia Katz.

 

Dauntless City Theatre’s Bard in Berczy brings us a delightful, immersive, gender-bending adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Adapted and directed by Eric Benson, Much Ado opened last night in Toronto’s Berczy Park (in St. Lawrence Market, with the cool dog-themed fountain).

We’re invited to gather near the Dauntless City sign (on the east side of the fountain) as the stage is set for this tale of love, games, jealousy and schemes. The ukulele-playing Balthazar (Holly Wyder) is our guide throughout this tale, as she leads us around the park to witness the various scenes unfold.

Returning home from war, Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon (Cynthia Jimenez-Hicks), her sister Don John (Melanie Leon), and officers Benedick (Kate Werneburg) and Claudio (Ira Henderson) stop for some R&R at the home of Leonato, Governor of Messina (Andrew Joseph Richardson) and his wife Innogen (Andrea Irwin). From the get-go, it’s clear that Claudio is smitten with their hosts’ son Hero (Chase Winnicky); and, as evidenced by their edgy, wit-filled banter, Benedick definitely has history with Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Chanakya Mukherjee). Their mutual love professed, Claudio and Hero decide to marry, and the vacation gathering goes into wedding planning mode.

Emboldened by the love in the air, the Prince and her hosts hatch a plan to bring the stubborn Benedick and scornful Beatrice into a love match. Meanwhile, jealous of her sister’s station and affection for Claudio, Don John seeks a way to cause mischief and bring chaos to the upcoming nuptials. Her follower Borachio (Wilex Ly) concocts a plan to disgrace Hero, using his lover Margaret (Jordan Shore), in sight of Don Pedro and Claudio to make them think Hero was with him the night before the wedding. Chaos ensues, the wedding is abruptly called off at the altar—and the accidental apprehension of one of the culprits by the local constabulary, led by the bumbling Head Officer of the Watch Dogberry (Andrea Lyons) and her partner Verges (Erin Eldershaw), could make all the difference between tragedy and a happy ending.

This abridged adaptation (90 minutes, no intermission) brings the audience into the action as we follow the story scene by scene around the fountain, bridged by snatches of music (supplied by Wyder, with music direction by David Kingsmill) that call back to the action. The fact that most of the roles have been gender reversed in casting (except for Leonato, Innogen, Claudio and Borachio)—creating two same-sex male couples—offers a fresh, new look at familiar characters. And Leonato’s wife Innogen, who has no lines in the original script, has dialogue in this version—largely borrowed from Leonato and the Friar; this puts her in a much more active position in the problem-solving plans of her household.

Big shouts to the ensemble for a thoroughly enjoyable, intimate experience of this Shakespeare favourite. Werneburg and Mukherjee have great chemistry as Benedick and Beatrice, shifting from prideful, witty verbal combatants to love-struck, stammering romantic prospects. The stubborn scorn of romance melts away as their friends’ well-meaning prank blooms into the realization that they really do love each other. And Winnicky and Henderson are adorably sweet and bashful as the young lovers Hero and Claudio. The gender reversed casting and same-sex couples make for some interesting insights into societal assumptions of male and female behaviour. Women can be tough soldiers who scoff at romance, men can be empathetic and show their feelings, and love is love no matter what the equation.

Other stand-outs include Leon’s mean-spirited, sullen Don John. Seething with jealousy over that which she lacks, Don John does what she wants and consequences be damned—but finds her cruel trickery offering limited mirth and sport. And Lyons and Eldershaw bring on the comic relief big time as the hilarious, goofball leaders of the Watch—combining physical comedy with the malapropism-filled text to great effect and LOLs.

Much Ado About Nothing continues at Berczy Park until Aug 26, with performances on Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 1:00 p.m. Admission is PWYC; gather around the Dauntless City sign and be prepared to move around the space to keep up with the action.

You can keep up with Dauntless City Theatre on Twitter and Facebook. In the meantime, check out Phil Rickaby’s great interview with Benson, Werneburg and Chanakya on Stageworthy Podcast.

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Toronto Fringe: The ladies rule in bawdy, hilarious tale of scheming & revenge in The Merry Wives of Windsor

Lynne Griffin & Sean Sullivan in The Merry Wives of Windsor - photo by Madison Golshani, Daniel Pascale
Lynne Griffin & Sean Sullivan in The Merry Wives of Windsor – photo by Madison Golshani, Daniel Pascale

Shakespeare BASH’d is back at the Victory Café again for Toronto Fringe this year, with a bawdy good fun production of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, co-directed by James Wallis and Catherine Rainville.

While the infamous drunken sot Sir John Falstaff (Sean Sullivan) schemes to get into the petticoats of Mistresses Ford (Suzette McCanny) and Page (Julia Nish-Lapidus), Mistress Quickly (Lynne Griffin) plays on the hearts and wallets of three prospective suitors vying for the hand of Miss Anne Page (Jade Douris) – and makes a pretty penny while doing so. Ford (Andrew Joseph Richardson) wrongly suspects his wife of infidelity and hatches a plan of his own to catch her out. The women are the wiser, and set the plans of all scheming men astray.

Merry Wives has a great, fun, rollicking ensemble, which rolls out this tale with great speed and dexterity. Stand-outs include Griffin (who Lost Girl fans will recognize as the Aswang lady Halima in season 1’s “Food for Thought”), who is a delight as the cunning Mistress Quickly, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye as she amasses a bosom full of cash. Sullivan’s wayward knight Falstaff is all lust and bravado, with shades of Jack Nicholson, ever with some unsavoury plot on his mind – even as each of his machinations fall to pieces. McCanny and Nish-Lapidus make a fine pair as Mistresses Ford and Page, the not so desperate housewives of Windsor who prove themselves as resourceful as Mistress Quickly – and more than a match for the silly men. Richardson is hilarious in Ford’s righteous indignation and plotting over a perceived betrayal from his wife; and Zachary Parkhurst is a laugh riot as the barely understandable, pompous suitor Dr. Caius.

With shouts to costume designer Amanda Shaw and Simon Rainville for the music.

The ladies rule in this hilariously funny tale of scheming, revenge and shenanigans.

the_merry_wives_of_windsor-web-250x274The Merry Wives of Windsor continues every day for the rest of this week at Victory Café: Wednesday – Saturday at 7 p.m., with a final performance on Sun, July 12 at 5 p.m. Get your tix ahead of time for this one, folks – and leave yourself plenty of time to get a good seat and a pint.