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Drama Club Flavors Laughs with Intrigue in Shakespeare's 'Much Ado About Nothing'

Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Male and female students kiss on stage.

A Kiss To Remember: Putting a modern twist on a classic Shakespeare play, Drama Club members Erin Dixon-Gonzalez and Jessica Zinnecker replicate the classic Time magazine photograph of a sailor and nurse kissing in New York City's Times Square to celebrate America's victory over Japan.

"I came hither to tell you...the lady is disloyal."

With these words, spoken by the treacherous Don John, a joyful wedding day splashes into a scandalous stew of bitter jealousy and sweeping condemnation, and the lively plot of Shakespeare's classic "Much Ado About Nothing" takes one of its darkest turns.

Talented Rose-Hulman Drama Club members are performing this 400-year-old romantic comedy as the fall production in the Hatfield Hall Theater, carrying audiences alternately through the brightest moments of cheerful romance and the deepest caverns of the most masochistic human weaknesses of jealousy, envy, and resentment.

Despite its dark moments, "Much Ado About Nothing" is likely the world's first-ever romantic comedy, says Curtis Humm, a sophomore who plays the part of Leonato. The quick-witted verbal fencing between Beatrice and Benedict keeps the story moving at a rapid and humorous clip until, as has become boilerplate in romantic comedies, the former rivals fall madly in love. And, the self-important Dogberry and his half-witted associates provide further hilarious relief.

"Much Ado About Nothing" is really two love stories, both of which are spiced up by the manipulative interferences of outsiders. In one case, well-meaning friends bring the sharp-tongued and cynical Beatrice into the loving arms of the once-sworn-bachelor Benedict. In the other, the frustrated arch villain Don John schemes to rend apart the naïve young lovers, Claudio and Hero. His dirty work is easy enough; Claudio, while a noble person, is easily duped (twice) into believing the worst of the object of his affection. On their wedding day, he shames her publicly, only to learn later he has been tricked, with apparently irreversible consequences.

Director Terence Hartnett preserves Shakespeare's remarkable and beautiful language while setting the timeless story in the immediate aftermath of World War II in southern California, a time and place of celebration and rebirth. This fits perfectly with the story, which is also set in the aftermath of a war when Shakespeare's characters are enjoying a sense of starting their lives afresh. Instead of Renaissance minstrel music, swing era jazz and blues numbers provide the musical foundation for the play. As an added bonus, Rose-Hulman's Norm Hanson composed two original songs for the play and the Rose-Hulman Swing Dance Club adds further life and color to the performance.

"It is the music and dance, combined with a spectacular cast and crew, that will set this particular production apart," says Hartnett, assistant professor of English and Rose-Hulman's director of theater programs. "I think this is one of Shakespeare's best comedies."

Hartnett organized two Shakespeare acting workshops last spring to help young actors on campus begin the process of productively approaching a role in a Shakespeare play.

After opening night on October 30 (7:30 p.m.) additional performances are planned on October 31 (7:30 p.m.), November 1 (2:30 p.m.), and November 6-7 (7:30 p.m.).

Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for youths, and are available at hatfieldhall.com, by phone at 812-877-8544, or at the Hatfield Hall ticket desk from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and two hours before each show. Complete show information is available at hatfieldhall.com.