The Oberon Theatre Ensemble’s production of Much Ado About Nothing is touted in its press release as being stripped of “all unnecessary paraphernalia” and “restored to its pure luster, as intended by William Shakespeare.” What this means for theatergoers who attend the show is an almost bare stage with nothing elaborate by way of sets, costumes, or lighting. While some may be disappointed in the lack of period costumes or may miss the stately view of a complicated set, this stripped-down version does allow Shakespeare’s immortal story of young love, brotherly treachery, and the comic battle of wits between the sexes to shine without distraction.
For those unfamiliar with the play, Much Ado About Nothing is a love story at heart. There is love at first sight, as Claudio falls hopelessly in love with Hero. There is also a slightly more complicated love between Benedick and Beatrice. Their history of exchanging barbed insults slowly and comically turns into a guarded courtship after each is told that in truth the other harbors a secret crush on the object of his or her disdain. This comic love story could easily turn to catastrophe after the treachery of a jealous prince, but fortunately there is the interference of a comical, bungling constable who discovers the plot and sets the wheels in motion for a happy ending.
Without the complications of an elaborate set or costumes that can weigh other Shakespeare productions down, the audience can better appreciate the beauty of the words of Shakespeare’s play. Benedick’s metamorphosis from affirmed bachelor to prospective married man is hilarious. And the malapropisms of Constable Dogberry, combined with the antics of his small squad reminiscent of the Keystone Cops, provide just the right touch of comic relief to events that border on tragedy. The audience is drawn to appreciate the mastery of Shakespeare’s storytelling as well as his wit and comic genius.