PHILADELPHIA — Mauckingbird Theatre Company turns a gay lens on William Shakespeare’s timeless comedy Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Mauckingbird Artistic Director Peter Reynolds, August 10 – 26. Contrasting the romantic entanglements of the young and spontaneous Claudio and Hero (Griffin Back and Cameron Slusser) with the bantering rivalry of Beatrice and Benedick (Sean Thompson and Matt Tallman), Mauckingbird produces a timely exploration of marriage, jealousy, love and honor through the eyes of gay men.
“It’s always exciting to see how new the story feels when told from a queer point of view,” says Mauckingbird Artistic Director Peter Reynolds. “In Shakespeare’s play, Hero is a young woman shamed in a powerful scene by her father, Leonato. In our version it was the mother-gay son encounter that really moved the whole cast. Things were illuminated in a different way, it became more emotional.”
In Mauckingbird’s Much Ado About Nothing, Leonato (Cheryl Williams) welcomes Claudio, Benedick and Don Pedro (Chancellor Dean) home from battle where Benedick resumes an on-going rivalry with Leonato’s nephew, Beatrice, and Claudio discovers feelings for their host’s son, Hero. When friends and foes begin to gossip, Benedick and Beatrice are suddenly drawn together while Claudio and Hero are bitterly torn apart.
Performed in a new venue at the Off-Broad Street Theater, designers Shon Causer (lighting), Zachary Limbert (set) and Marie Anne Chiment (costume) are creating the setting of the play in a larger and taller space than in previous productions. “The designers are having fun with the vertical expansiveness of the space. We plan to open with live music and a party on ‘Leonato’s outdoor patio’, encouraging audience members to mingle with the actors before the play begins,” says Reynolds.
Much Ado About Nothing runs August 10-26, 2012 (opening night is Friday, August 10, at 8 p.m.), at the Off-Broad Street Theater at First Baptist Church, located at 1636 Sansom St. in Philadelphia. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and $15 for students and are available by calling the Mauckingbird Theatre Company box office at (215) 923-8909 or online at www.mauckingbird.org.
ABOUT THE CAST
Cheryl Williams (Leonato) is a Barrymore Award-winning actress (The Breath of Life, Lantern Theater Company) who has performed nationally and locally with companies such as Mauckingbird (Hedda Gabler), Quintessence Theatre Group (Antigone), New City Stage (Pterodactyls) and others. She is one of only two women in the production, performing alongside Erika Anselmo (Antonio), as Leonato’s sister. In addition to her role on-stage, Anselmo serves as the voice and text coach for Much Ado About Nothing and has worked as a voice, text and dialect coach with professional theaters in Philadelphia, New York City and throughout New Jersey.
Griffin Back (Claudio) makes his professional stage debut as an adult, having been known for his previous work as a young actor in Arden Theatre Company’s Caroline, or Change (Noah Gellman)and the Walnut Street Theatre’s Peter Pan (John). Cameron Slusser (Hero) is currently a student at Temple University where leading roles include Bobby in Urinetown and Mike in A Chorus LIne. Matt Tallman (Benedick) was seen earlier this year in Mauckingbird’s The Temperamentals. Tallman has worked professionally throughout the country, including performances with Philadelphia’s Azuka Theatre, the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Dallas Theater Center and more, and this will be his fifth time performing in Much Ado About Nothing. Sean Thompson (Beatrice) is a Temple University graduate who was previously seen as Titania in Mauckingbird’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Regional credits include Washington’s Signature Theatre, Walnut Street Theatre and Arden Theatre.
Chancellor Dean (Don Pedro) holds his MFA from Temple and is returning to Philadelphia from Los Angeles. Chancellor was previously seen at the Arden Theatre in Loot and Azuka Theatre in Four. Ben Lyle Lotka plays the sinister Don John, whose rumors and scheming threaten to tear Claudio and Hero apart forever. Don John’s partner is Borachio, played by Mitchell Bloom, who was recently crowned Mr. Mauckingbird 2012. Will Poost provides additional comedic relief through the malapropisms of Dogberry, helping to bring peace and happiness to the couples in the final act of the play. Poost previously worked with Mauckingbird in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Snug and has also performed with Drexel University, Azuka Theater and The Riot Group.
The cast also includes Joe Mathew as Ursula, Hero’s attendant and LJ Norelli in multiple roles of varying loyalties: Balthasar, an attendant of Don Pedro; Sexton, a judge at Borachio’s trial; and Conrade, a follower of Don John.
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
Peter Reynolds (Artistic Director) currently serves as the Head of Musical Theater for the Department of Theater at Temple University. In Philadelphia, he has worked at Media Theatre, Act II Playhouse, Walnut Street Theatre, Hedgerow Theatre, Villanova Theatre, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Philadelphia Young Playwrights and the Lenape Regional Performing Arts Center in New Jersey. Reynolds spent six years as Artistic Director of the award-winning HealthWorks Theatre in Chicago and has also worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Theatre Building Chicago, Apollo Theatre Chicago, St. Louis’ HotCity Theatre, Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre and Maples Repertory.