At some point in my life I made a life altering choice. I decided that Much Ado About Nothing was my favorite play. Not just my favorite Shakespeare play mind you, but my favorite play. Ever. Now, it’s hard for me to make such a stark statement as that. I tend not to have one absolute favorite anything. It feels confining. What if I change my mind? What if it only speaks to me in a particular season of life? I mean, I was obsessed about Titanic during high school and am embarrassed about that fact today. And while I did study the history of the sinking of the ship, I also was often found loudly singing My Heart Will Go On many a times in my car (with the window open, as my car was without air conditioning). I also may or may not have known all the quotes from the film that were played in the re-mix edition of the song.
So clearly there is some history with claiming any art work, film, book, or play as my favorite. Despite all of this drama, Much Ado made the cut. I never had to read the play in school, but I think my first exposure to the play was in high school. I was camping out at the local movie theater for Star Wars: Episode I (yes, I was that girl) and one of the guys in our group had brought his sister along. She was very much not into the whole Star Wars thing, so had brought a tv/vcr (mind you, this was before DVD days) and was watching the Kenneth Branagh version of Much Ado. It caught my interest and I believe I watched the entire film not too long after. It’s a great version to cut one’s teeth on. Branagh stayed true to the story, making only slight modifications to the text, and corralled a spectacular cast (with the exception of Keanu Reeves, who is horrible).
I loved the witty language, the fun bantering, and the utterly ridiculous Dogberry. But mostly, I loved seeing a positive portrayal of a strong woman. Beatrice, while not without fault, is able to toe the line of being independent yet remains likable (in stark contrast to Katherine in Taming of the Shrew). And her moments of rage when her cousin is wronged are beautifully vulnerable:
Oh, that I were a man! What, bear her in hand until they come to take hands and then, with public accusation, uncovered slander, unmitigated rancor—O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace….. I cannot be a man with wishing, therefore I will die a woman with grieving.
(Act IV, Scene I)
This scene never ceases to amaze me. Suddenly, this witty comedy turns seeming tragedy and a simple profession of love leads to an impassioned cry for justice. Actually, this is my favorite scene of the play. Wow, here I am, picking another favorite. Wonders never cease.
I’ve seen the play performed live. Time for another favorite. My favorite experience at the theater. I saw Much Ado performed by the Royal Shakespeare Theater in Stratford-upon-Avon. I went alone, sat in a tiny theatre, a few rows back, and loved every moment. The play was staged in pre-revolutionary Cuba and at one point a character lights a (Cuban) cigar, adding another sensation into the theatrical mix – smell. While I don’t like the smell of cigars, the act brought me even more into the experience. Not surprising, I was treated to spectacular performances, which even out shined Kenneth Branagh’s version.
Back in early 2010, a little band from the UK, Mumford and Sons, was starting to gain popularity. At my church. The lead singer’s parents’ had stayed at my church decades ago (and were still acquainted with many from th church) and so all of these church ladies were attending their concerts in little clubs down in Hollywood. I thought it was ridiculous. I assumed this band was only liked because of the connection and refused to listen to them. I expressed this to a friend, who agreed with my sentiment, but also expressed that regardless, they were a really good band. He played the album for me and the song that made me change my tune (pun intended) for them was their opening Sigh No More. Why you ask? Because the song heavily quotes….Can you guess? Much Ado About Nothing. It was my gateway into appreciating the band.
Most recently, the play has again been on my mind with the release of Joss Whedon’s version. I must admit, I was excited for this film and kept hoping that it wouldn’t suck. I knew it was risky. I’ve been disappointed by films before, but I couldn’t help but expect something magical. I’d meant to drive up to LA to watch it, as it’s in limited release, but was having a hard time finding the time. Then, one not so special day, it appeared at the little art house theater by me. Hooray! I went alone (company or no, it’s still a treat to hear these fun words) and thoroughly enjoyed Whedon’s unique vision. Set in modern day, but retaining the original language, I was impressed with his ability to stay true to the story, but having some fun with inflection, staging, and cinematography. I was amazed to hear that it was filmed in 11 days. When watching the performances, it sure doesn’t seem like these actors were “winging it”. Especially those of Amy Acker and Nathan Fillion. Acker, who played Beatrice, had an easiness to her delivery, giving these old words new life. She brought a tenderness to the role that I’ve not often seen. Fillion played Dogberry, the buffoonish constable. While his performance was comedic as hoped, he also brought an empathetic quality that added some extra layers to his character.
I don’t quite know how to end this post. It’s my favorite play, I’ve experienced it in different formats. I haven’t learned any lessons, but am remembering that I just plain like writing about this play. I’m close to 1,000 words and realize how trivial this all may be. Perhaps I am engaged in my own, much ado. About nothing?