The Bard: Still Funny After All These Centuries
by Mark Lord, qboro contributor | Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2018 10:30 am
Titan Theatre Co., the resident troupe at Queens Theatre in Flushing, has been unusually successful in making the plays of William Shakespeare and other classic writers accessible to today’s audiences.
The trend continues with its current offering, “Much Ado About Nothing,” a delightful romp involving the misperceptions, false reports and, of course, disguises that characterize many of the Bard’s comedies.
The production, under the direction of Jenny Bennett, who also did the adaptation, is distinguished by its hip, fresh vibe, beginning with the appearance of one of its leading players, Lenny Banovez, who struts on with sunglasses and a swagger that would not be out of place on a Manhattan street. Music and hints at slapstick add to the merriment.
Many of the actors incorporate modern mannerisms (as well as an occasional expression) into their characterizations, much to the surprise and delight of the audience.
At last Friday night’s opening, the spectators, including many children, filled the intimate space with laughter nearly from start to finish. Being only inches from the actors is an important part of the experience.
Things turn ominous in the second of two acts (the play is abbreviated here, following this troupe’s customary formula), threatening to lead to a tragic ending. But even then there is plenty of laughter, much of it courtesy of Carine Montbertrand, who, in an unusually effective case of blind casting, offers a most amusing turn as Dogberry, the constable who takes his job oh-so-seriously. She has great fun directly addressing the audience, a practice several other actors employ as well.
The play offers commentary on a multitude of issues, among them attitudes toward courtship and marriage, the status of women and the impact of gossip, through several plots that unfold simultaneously. These include the evolving relationship between Beatrice (Molly Thomas), one of Shakespeare’s strongest female characters, and Benedick (Banovez), a soldier who vows never to marry, and a scheme to ruin the happiness of another couple, Hero (Ann Flanigan), the virtuous daughter of the well-respected governor of Messina, where the action takes place, and Claudio (Andrew Garrett), Benedick’s gullible friend.
Banovez, who is Titan’s artistic director, seems a perfect fit as the histrionic Benedick, who appears to always be performing for the benefit of others, though deeper feelings may well lurk beneath the surface. Banovez is terrific at offering surprising line deliveries and uses vocal inflections most amusingly. Thomas is a fine foil, as the two compete to out-insult each other.
Flanigan is appropriately gentle as the intended wife of Claudio, played with a wide range of emotions by Garrett.
Marcus Denard Johnson makes an impression as the powerful nobleman Don Pedro; Tristan Coltan is the personification of melancholia as Don John, who’s at the center of the evil scheme; and Jack Cirillo and Michael Selkirk make their marks as, respectively, Leonato, Hero’s father, and his brother, Antonio.
Mike Lee plays guitar and sings pleasantly as Balthasar, a servant, and leads some surprisingly attractive choral singing, in which most of the cast participates.
The simple setting (designed by Michael Sabourin), depicting a series of doors with shutters and an open entranceway in the middle, sets an appropriate atmosphere and offers ample opportunities for rapid entrances and exits. Eric Van Tassell’s lighting is evocative. The costumes designed by Olivia J. Trees are largely of the pastel variety and mostly attractive, though one or two of the players appeared inappropriately unkempt on opening night.
Now wrapping up its ninth season, Titan, which has a knack for attracting both seasoned and blossoming theatergoers, deserves its growing reputation as a fine theatrical company.
‘Much Ado About Nothing’
When: Thu.-Sat., April 12, 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21, 7:30 p.m. and Sun., April 15 and 22, 4 p.m.
Where: Queens Theatre, 14 United Nations S., Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Tickets: $18. (347) 738-5602, titantheatrecompany.com