by Lynn on May 1, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

An adaptation but by whom is a mystery.

At the Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, Ont.
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Richard Rose
Consulting Director, Ravi Jain
Choreography by Nova Bhattacharya
Set and Costumes by Michelle Tracey
Lighting by Phillip Silver
Composers and Sound by Ed Hanley and Suba Sankaran
Starring: Kawa Ada
David Adams
Salvatore Antonio
Nova Bhattacharya
John Cleland
Gugun Deep Singh
Ali Momen
Alon Nashman
Sarena Parmar
Ellora Patnaik
Anand Rajaram
Anusree Roy
Tahirih Vejdani

Adapting Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing into a Bollywood-type show set in Brampton might have been a good idea at the time, but the result is not.

The Story. First let me reference Shakespeare. In Shakespeare’s play soldiers have triumphantly returned from some war or other. They are invited to stay at the house of Leonato. Benedict is a senior officer. Claudio is a solider who has acquitted himself well. Claudio is in love with Hero, Leonato’s daughter and wants to marry her. Benedict used to be engaged to Beatrice but he threw her over and she’s been hurt and slighted ever since. She never misses a chance to lob a barb at him. Love does not run smooth for Hero and Claudio, but it does bloom for Beatrice and Benedict.

Now to the adaptation set in Brampton with many South Asian references. There is no actual credit for this adaptation which is odd. In this version billionaire-mogal Lord Tata, his CFO Benedict and his protégé Darius visit the house of Mayor Ranjit of Brampton. Darius is in love with Sita, Ranjit’s daughter. Benedict spars with Thara, Ranjit’s niece, as usual. She is sharp-tongued and he has to be on his toes to keep up with her. Benedict and Thara’s friends decide to trick each of them into thinking the other is in love with them, thereby awakening the love that Thara and Benedict do have for each other. The path to true love is not smooth, but besides peanut butter, what is?

The Production. Michelle Tracey has designed a set that suggests size, riches, opulence and status without breaking the designing bank to do it. There are a few pots with shrubs in them. Her designs for the traditional Indian garb both for everyday and for a formal party such as a wedding, are beautiful. Lord Tata, Benedict his CFO and Darius his protégé wear suits, carry attaché cases and flip their cell phones to make money calls.

While there are many contemporary and South Asian cultural references in the play, the structure and story is based on Shakespeare. Certainly Thara, as played by Anusree Roy is a spitfire, full of spunk and sharp-barbed humour. She is part of that family, but her independence and her refusal to be pigeonholed also has her as standing apart, observing. Benedict, Thara’s sparing partner, tries to keep up with her wit and sometimes it’s a struggle. As Benedict, Alon Nashman seems a bit tentative. His usual speech patters are halting when a certain glibness is in order. I have seen Nashman elsewhere and he’s a fine actor. But in Much Ado About Nothing he seems uncomfortable. Most concerning is that there is no spark of passion or chemistry between this Benedict and Thara. When Benedict says to Thara: “I do love nothing in the world so well as you—is that not strange” it is his first declaration of love and is full of love and surprise and tenderness. Here it falls flat.

As Darius, Ali Momen imbues his character with charm, a mooning-puppy love for Sita and intense frustration and hurt when he thinks she is being untrue. As Sita, Sarena Parmar is light in the role and seems to disappear.

Director Richard Rose keeps a mad cap pace for this production. John Cleland as Constable Verges and Anand Rajaram as Head Constable Dan Singh do nice work as the two bumbling constables who solve the mystery of what happened before the wedding. And I am convinced any scene involving Tim Bits is automatically hilarious. Added to that is that Cleland plays the Constable with a Newfoundland accent for added fun.

But there are so many opportunities for humour that slip by unrealized. The gulling scene, when friends of Benedict and Thara try to fool the two that the other loves them, is a particular disappointment. There is some effort to make it funny—Benedict hides behind a pot with a puny shrub and crawls along the stage and slides his way along the front row—but effort is the operative word with not enough payoff.

The production has a rushed feeling to it, as if much more time was needed for rehearsal and realizing the intension. In the story, effort is made to try and discredit Sita. A servant in that household is inadvertently implicated. She realizes it at the wedding of Sita and Darius, and quietly slinks away. Rose has her in a group of other servants, almost unseen unless you were looking and I was, and she just slinks off stage without a moment being made of her realizing her involvement. It’s stuff like this that made this well-intentioned production ultimately disappointing.

Comment. At the end, the whole cast participates in a rousing dance number—thanks to the choreography of Nova Bhattacharya. It is lively, joyful, and they all look like they are having a grand time. I just wished I was one of them.

Produced by Tarragon Theatre

Opened: April 29, 2015.
Closes: May 31, 2015
Cast: 13; 8 men, 5 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

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