Hold Thy Peace takes us back to high school
This weekend, Brandeis’ Hold Thy Peace presented their spring semester play “Much Ado About Nothing,” an adaption of the classic romantic comedy with a twist. Directed by Olivia Ellson ’21, the play tells the story of Benedick and Beatrice, two merry rivals, discovering their affection toward each other while trying to save the jeopardized relationship between Benedick’s friend Claudio and Beatrice’s sister Hero. This time, however, instead of princes, soldiers and a masquerade ball, the story is set in an American high school, with basketball players and prom.
The performance quality of the show was one of its strong suits. As with many of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, much of the lay’s humor relies on the dialogue. Not only was the script delivered with almost no mistakes, several performances were quite outstanding, namely Benedick played by Elizabeth Gentile ’20 and Beatrice played by Halley Geringer ’19. The two actresses carried out a considerable amount of the heated conversations in the play. Equally remarkable were Tess Kowalski ’21 and Leanna Ugent ’22 as the police duo Dogberry and Verges respectively, who offered some of the funniest performances.
Throughout the show, deception is used both to sprout and to ruin relationships. Those situations were played out with the help of the ingenious stage design. In one scene, two characters have a conversation to intentionally “leak” information to Benedick, who’s in hiding. Instead of building large sets and extravagant props, the show had the audience sit on both sides of the stage and used them as cover for Benedick. Besides that, the production really made a big effort to merge the high school element into the story. Whenever Don Pedro, the captain of the basketball team, came onto the stage, the audience heard the sound of dribbling. When Beatrice tries to eavesdrop on a conversation in the gym, she uses the yoga mats as cover. All of those details added a layer of humor that was rather refreshing for those who are familiar with the original story — not an easy feat when dealing with something written by one of the most talented playwrights on record.
While the high school premise does give the show a fresh look, it also creates certain issues with the script, mainly conflicts of tone. Choosing to stay loyal to the original, this adaptation didn’t make many changes to the script, which often stands out when the dialogue doesn’t match the context. It is hard to become deeply invested in the story when someone’s talking about high school student Benedick’s glorious work as a soldier, or when Beatrice asks Benedick to slay his classmate Claudio. While there have been similar adaptations of the same play with a modern twist, most of them keep a relatively similar context to the original story, such as having Benedick and his friends as a group of navy soldiers in the ’80s. Setting the story in an American high school is a tough task, and it takes more than costumes and pop music for the theme to merge with the script.
At the same time, certain elements of the stage design also diminish the quality of the show. As I mentioned above, certain parts of the play required the actors to move off the center of the stage and into the audience. While breaking the fourth wall makes it an unique experience for the audiences compared to traditional theater, it also makes it hard for some of the audience to see or hear the performances. In one particular scene, there were performers in front of and behind me, making it very difficult to focus on either. The volume of the music played during the show could also be too loud at times, especially while characters were having conversations.
All that said, “Much Ado About Nothing” is a hilarious play with great performances and a unique premise. It takes courage and hard work to take risks with such a well-known play, and for that, I applaud the effort put into this production.