William Shakespeare’s comedies always have a wedding, and the American River College Theater production of “Much Ado About Nothing” is no exception.
While the main plot device lies in the engagement of Claudio and the lady Hero, there is another marriage on the stage — that of the classic Shakespearean script and the steampunk subgenre.
Directed by Pamela Downs with set and lighting designed by Kathy Burleson, and with costumes designed by Gail Russell, the completion of the steampunk ideal was thorough. There are gear shafts and neon lights, and one character is transformed into a robot.
The original musical composition by ARC student Jonathan Blum fit exceedingly well and added a layer of sweetness that made one of the final dance scenes a particular highlight.
“Much Ado” sets up the stage for the wedding of Claudio and Hero, but the real relationship to watch is between Beatrice, cousin of Hero, and Benedick, an officer to the visiting Don Pedro, prince of Aragon. Beatrice and Benedick know each other well and happily trade barbs throughout, slowly growing closer as events unfold.
Playing Beatrice is Ashley Rose, who also appeared in “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” during the fall semester 2013. In a play with so much emphasis on wit and wordplay, Rose believes the directing of Downs added a layer of humanity that set it apart.
“Pam adds a lot of heart,” Rose said. “I think other directors probably wouldn’t have put as much of themselves into the show as Pam did. She lets you have your own creative expression, but she lets you know that you have her heart through all of it.”
And Rose isn’t wrong. It’s quite easy to get lost in the convoluted language of the show’s dialogue. Some quips nail the spot and earn a laugh; others fall out of actors mouths’ like bowling balls with a thud and roll across the stage with nary a notice.
But prevailing throughout all of it is a true sense of heart and humanity. The actors pull you in when the serious moments come (Downs was overheard during intermission saying “this is where it gets dark,” referring to the second half of the play), and hold you warmly when the happy endings come.
Rose herself earns most of the laughs with the delivery of her lines and a good dose of physical humor. The character of Beatrice has a lot in common with some of Shakespeare’s other main female characters: modern in her independence, quick with her words and intelligent as any other man in the play, one of the many qualities that sets Shakespeare apart.
“I like that Beatrice is very multifaceted,” Rose said. “She’s very complex … She’s not afraid to be herself and be confident and I really admire and relate to those things about her.”
Earning another abundance of laughs was Aaron Bayless, playing the role of Dogberry, master constable. One particular scene starring Bayless was the favorite of the play for Tanner Mets, an undeclared major.
Mets liked the play in all, saying, “One word: Really, really, really, really awesome. I didn’t know how well steampunk would fit into it, but it fit in pretty well.”
Evan Thorley, who plays Borachio, one of the more minor characters, said that his favorite part of the play is, “the part where I eat bread in a scene and I get to talk through it.”