Don’t even read what I’m writing here if you haven’t yet made a reservation to see Much Ado About Nothing. There are only four shows left, tickets are going fast, and you do not want to miss it. If this were a text message, I’d have added about a million more explanation points. I'm serious. Secure your seat before you keep reading, or it might be too late.
Now that it’s settled that you are attending, let me tell you the reasons you’ve made a great choice. After a rather long hiatus, it gives me great pleasure to tell you that the Prenzie Players are back. The Prenzies' triumphant return, their first show since 2019, was originally scheduled for March, but stupid COVID hit the cast. I, for one, am thrilled they resurrected their production of director Jarrod DeRooi's Much Ado About Nothing (Reader employee Mike Schulz was one of its producers) for even for a one-weekend run, because the Quad Cities needs the Prenzie Players and their immeasurable talents.
My personal favorite Shakespeare comedy, Much Ado About Nothing focuses on two different romantic pairings when a group of soldiers arrive in the town of Messina, Italy. Two cousins, Hero (Mattie Gelaude) and Beatrice (Lily Blouin), find themselves in the respective sights of Claudio (Noah Stivers) and Benedick (JC Luxton). Yet while Hero and Claudio spend a great deal of time staring at each other with goo-goo eyes, Beatrice and Benedick seemingly despise each other, and banter back and forth. There are also subplots involving death, hijinks, and a raucous party, and DeRooi has changed some genders of the characters for this production – for instance, whereas Shakespeare wrote a Leonato, we get a Leonetta (Jessica White).
If you’ve never before been to a Prenzie show, you should know before you go about the company's tendency to overtake a space and immerse you into Shakespeare’s world. For Much Ado (which I saw on its final dress rehearsal Wednesday night), the Village Theatre looked the best I’ve ever seen, with the Prenzies' beautifully transforming the space into a Messina villa. Designed by DeRooi and Jeremy Mahr, and built by 14 others - set construction team: you’re all amazing, but giving you proper due would eat up my word count - the space is accented throughout by lemon trees. Whether you opt to sit facing the “Leonetta’s” bar or the home's gorgeous front porch, you’re in for a visual treat. In fact, from Kate Farence’s costumes (with the bridal-party shirts a particularly nice touch) to the straightforward yet effective lighting design by Josef Bodenbender, Matt Moody, and stage manager Liz Sager, DeRooi’s production team, across the board, proves every bit as skilled as his cast.
One of my favorite aspects of any Prenzie show is that there's always so much to take in: For instance, this production's Borachio (the superb Ryan Elgin), a bartender throughout much of the first act,, doesn’t steal focus, but is great fun to watch. That being said, DeRooi’s entire cast demonstrates great command of Shakespeare’s language; my 11-year-old joined me and had no problem following the storyline as a sweeping whole – though he admittedly didn’t catch all of the best skirmishes of wit Benedick and Beatrice throw at each other. And oh, let me tell you, there are no actual weak links in DeRooi’s presentation, but its absolute strength is in the fun brought by Luxton and Blouin, who prove well-matched with their facial expressions, delivery, and the physicality.
Another signature Prenzie Players aspect is the way the group blatantly ignores the fourth wall; eye contact during an aside is commonplace, as is the very real possibility that an actor may end up sitting next to you. You may even be in a splash zone. (SeaWorld reference notwithstanding, that entire experience, thanks to White, was as hilarious as it was memorable.)
While DeRooi’s cast doesn't shy away from the humor, not all is comedic in this telling of Shakespeare's tale. The story’s villain Don John (a particularly grumpy-looking Mark Garden) and his sidekick Corrada (the poised Kitty Israel) are up to no good and almost get away with it. But another major strength of this production comes in the role of the soldier and musician Balthasar, played here by Jenny Lynn Stacy. I didn’t know that Much Ado About Nothing needed an actual troubadour, but it absolutely does, and when Stacy's guitar comes out, so does a great deal of emotion – most of it cheerful, but of course, exceptions apply to every rule. Stacy even plays throughout the intermission. There’s no piped-in music in DeRooi’s world.
The Prenzie Players' Much Ado About Nothing is a gift to the Quad Cities: a true testament to how art can transform a space, and how classical theatre continues to be relevant. I know you’ve already reserved your seat, but it’s time now to text a friend and bring them along. The Prenzies are still employing a pay-what-it’s-worth model … and let me tell you, it’s worth a whole lot.
The Prenzie Players' Much Ado About Nothing runs at the Village Theatre (2113 East 11th Street, Davenport IA) through August 6, and more information and tickets are available by calling (563)362-2899 and visiting PrenziePlayers.com.