Review – "Much Ado About Nothing" at First Folio

by Venus Zarris

The Bard verses Nature; at First Folio it is a dead heat!

I am not an outdoorsy kind of person. Given the choice between an air-conditioned theater and a summer night outside with mosquitoes buzzing in my ear, I am inclined to choose ‘civilized shelter.’ But the sweet and talented folks at First Folio Shakespeare Festival combine impressive theatrical production with breathtaking natural setting to create a perfect evening of entertaining escape.

Mayslake Peabody Estate Forest Preserve in Oak Brook.I say escape for three reasons. One, you are transported into the world of Shakespeare’s classic comedy by a completely engaging cast. Two, you are swept away by the natural wonders of the lovely Peabody Estate. And three, you are far from the hectic city limits.

But rest assured, if your ‘First Folio Get Away’ is anything like ours you will not only count your evening as one of the summer’s best but as one to be remembered for years to come. Pack a picnic, assemble your favorite cohorts and prepare to relax and enjoy.

Birds, Bats, Breezes, Fireflies and… a turtle?

We packed some delicious delicacies and subtle spirits. Anxious to indulge and imbibe, we planned to arrive a little early, the play starts at 8:15pm but the grounds open at 7pm. As we turned into the entrance I noticed something on the side of the access road. It was a turtle! Unable to climb the curb, he seemed destined for trouble so we parked and I picked him up. Turtles pee when they are scared and this guy was evidently terrified! But a quick trip to the lake behind the estate mansion and he was eagerly swimming back to safety.

(I add the little turtle aside because in my personal experience, turtles have been good luck charms and delightful omens. True to form, he foreshadowed a positively delightful night!)

We set up our picnic and were refreshed by subtle and unexpected spontaneous cool breezes. Birds playfully flew around the stage and as dusk set in the fireflies added delicate and restrained intermittent fireworks to the festivities. Paying close attention overhead, I noticed a pair of bats doing their part to keep the bug population at bay and add to the already enchanting atmosphere.

As the night progressed the moon slowly emerged from behind the treetops. Almost full, its beauty was easily underestimated but that night it was simply partial and premature sublime perfection. Its waxing excellence exceeded the drama of its pending fullness.

If there was one natural element that needed to be ‘toned down’ it was the boisterous crickets. Obviously unaware of Shakespeare’s impressive and historic theatrical reputation, they did their best to sing over the actors. Thankfully, a state of the art sound system thwarted their disrespectful efforts.

Shakespeare’s writing is so timeless that it can be delivered with bare bones or lavish production values and engage on either scale. But the added element of nature created a beguiling accent that almost threatened to usurp the already impressive theatrical offering.

Much Ado About A Lot

Before the play’s exposition even gets started we are warmed up by a brilliant fluffing from the antics of Verges, adorably played by Keland Scher. Scher has charm and sweetness galore as he juggles, flirts and clowns with the audience creating the perfect pre-show mood. Oftentimes, this sort of interactive audience participation can prove to be obnoxious, corny or embarrassing but Scher is brimming with playful talent and is as lovable as a cartoon bunny.

Bickering, blundering, deception, redemption and ultimately, after some bumbling and revelation, requited love are the forces at work in Much Ado About Nothing. Between the entanglements and resolution Shakespeare has created Much Ado about an awful lot and the first rate cast delivers the goods with clarity and charm.

A scene from Melissa Carlson and Nick Sandys provide the most excitement with their clever verbal jabs and retorts. Carlson’s Beatrice, the confirmed spinster, is venomously shrewd and Sandys’s Benedick, the confirmed bachelor, is lyrically adroit. They elevate the juvenile game of ‘taunt your undeclared love interest’ to a wickedly witty and articulate exchange. Rene Ruelas renders an amusingly eccentric Friar Francis to add to the fun.

Andre Pluess’s sound design and original composition add even more natural texture and subtle elegance to the production. Michael Goldberg’s straightforward direction of the excellent ensemble and gifted design team create an outstanding rendition of the classic comedy.

You decide who prevails, theater or nature. Either way, it is a WIN/WIN proposition for the audience.

Gather up your friends for a little road trip and enjoy exceptional theater in a remarkable atmosphere. First Folio Shakespeare Festival is a brilliant addition to this summer full of marvelous Shakespearean options. It is a tucked away treasure that is well worth the drive.

Rating: ««««

(“Much Ado About Nothing” runs through August 17 at First Folio Shakespeare Festival, 1717 W. 31st Street, Oak Brook. 630-986-8067)

 

"Much Ado About Nothing" runs through August 17 at First Folio Shakespeare Festival, 1717 W. 31st Street, Oak Brook. 630-986-8067

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