Much ado about rotten scoundrels

In this age of video games, reality TV and oh, Sarah Palin, it’s refreshing to see that a high school drama club still has the gumption to stage Shakespeare.

I’m not in the least bit surprised that it was the talented troupe at Sherburne-Earlville being the latest (and first in a long, long memory) to tackle The Bard. Director Colleen Law-Tefft clearly likes to challenge her young thespians, and the Marauder actors are certainly up to the charge.

This weekend, it’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” my favorite of Mr. Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, perhaps now best known for its title more than anything else.

This is the point in the review at which I normally give a short synopsis of the play. This being Shakespeare, there’s no such thing as a short synopsis. In fact, and helpfully, Law-Tefft has included a full-page rundown of the story and even a flow chart of characters (!) in the “Much Ado” program. Not having read the play since college, this Cliffsnotes version came in mighty handy when I went to see the play Wednesday night.

That’s not to say, though, that Shakespeare isn’t readily accessible to modern audiences. After a few awkward moments in the beginning in which I had no idea what they were saying, that “Shakespeare gene” dormant inside me kicked in and it all came back to me easily.

Though the dialogue in “Much Ado” is rapid-fire olde English, it’s amazingly relatable and funny in the present day, centuries later. That’s the brilliance of Shakespeare, in my humble opinion. Twenty-first century high school kids can make his works every bit as fresh and witty as they were in the 16th century.

Leading the pack here is Emilee Smith as the spitfire Beatrice, who spends much of the play resisting her love for the arrogant Benedick, played by fellow senior Devin Miller. I hope we’re able to keep tabs on Ms. Smith when she graduates from S-E this year; I guarantee this talented young woman is going places. And Mr. Miller, though I haven’t seen him as much on stage, matches his fiery paramour tit for tat.

Brent Guiles and Joelle Clark are charming as young lovers Claudio and Hero, who are torn apart by the machinations of others. The scene in which Claudio cruelly leaves Hero at the altar on their wedding day is particularly mesmerizing. Craig Natoli masters Shakespearean villainy to perfection as the wily Don John, who goes to great lengths to tear young love asunder. Seniors Jeff Taylor and Brad Ward are similarly bold and fearless in their roles as Don Pedro and Leonato, respectively.

And I have to mention Doug Parks, who embodies the quirky weirdness of the constable, Dogberry, with comic genius. Funny, as I read “Much Ado,” I don’t remember this as being a standout character, but Mr. Parks literally steals the show here.

The talented cast also includes Mick Khoury, Matt Smith, Sarah Brown, Margaret Dushko, Claire Khoury, Daniel Bagnall, Ed Rigano, Jacob Taylor, Austin Miller, Mike Phelan, James Behret, Stephanie Staley, Zoe Enscoe, Geana Giglio, Mike Holeck, Matt Marvin, Shannon Staley, Lucy Taylor, Meghan Dushko, Lukas Fetzko, Kayla Geier, Maisy French, Danielle Purdy and Rachel Taylor. Phew! This is Shakespeare, after all.

Sherburne-Earlville presents William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” tonight and Saturday at 7 p.m. in the S-E high school auditorium. Tickets are $5 at the door.


In a related note, I regret to say I was unable to attend a dress rehearsal last night for the Afton Community Theater’s production of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” It’s a musical based on the 1988 movies of the same name starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine as two con men out for a big score. Afton’s putting on this musical in the high school auditorium tonight and Saturday at 8, and Sunday afternoon at 2. Tickets are $15 at the door.

While I was disappointed I couldn’t see the preview for this column, I fear not – the Afton troupe is coming to Norwich to do the show again at the Arts Council theater in September during Colorscape Chenango weekend. Expect a full review then!

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