That William Shakespeare was really onto something. It has been more than 400 years since his masterpiece “Much Ado About Nothing” opened at the Globe Theater in London, yet his words and themes ring true in 21st century Chula Vista.
“Much Ado About Much Ado About Nothing: Shakespeare and Social Justice,” directed by Assistant Professor Ruff Yeager, reimagined The Bard as a TV-age therapist and commentator. It was as if Shakespeare grew up on the west side of town and rode the trolley to Southwestern.
As the title declares, social justice played a major role in the production. Actors performed scenes from “Much Ado,” then staged their own written responses that amplified what happened in the scene. Actors responded to the marginalization of characters and the slings and arrows of sexism, racism, violence, gender roles and more.
Olios between scenes allowed actors to respond to the play. This made for an unorthodox but illuminating look into Shakespeare’s rich if antiquated writing.
Yeager’s rendition featured a small but worthy cast of 12, including Yeager himself. It was a cozy scenario that allowed seating on stage and intimacy between cast and audience.
“Oh, if only I were a man,” moaned Beatrice (Isabella Ruffo) so prophetically in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss of the presidency. Dogberry’s lament seemed like a story about fake news on Brietbart ripped from the front page of the New York Times or Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN.
“Marry sir, they have committed false report, “ he said. “Moreover, they have spoken untruths. Secondarily, they are slanderers. They have belied a lady, they have said unjust things, and to conclude, they are lying knaves.”
Shakespeare, one of the first feminists, as always was looking for injustices against women. The line “He called me a slut” caused a haunting response by every female cast member, simultaneously reciting stories of women who have been unjustly slut-shamed.
Hortensia Garcia and Edgar Rodriquez gave passionate speeches about their experiences with social constructs about woman and manhood, and a sibling rivalry was resolved through a clever Dr.Phil skit. Justice versus vengeance themes were effectively tied to today’s epidemic of police brutality.
Yeager’s small cast was both a blessing and a curse. It enabled each actor to get plenty of deserved stage time, but also made the transition of scenes confusing for Shakespearian novices. Yeager, a professional actor, risked overpowering his students, but they held their own.
Protagonists Beatrice and Benedick (Daniel Ward) were portrayed as an unlikely pair buffeted in a love-hate relationship, but their natural chemistry gave the play the romance it needed.
“I wish my horse had the speed of your tounge!” quipped The Bard, who surely would have wished to shuffle off his mortal coil if he had lived through 2016. “Much Ado About Nothing” is a perfect description of our Twitterati, Facebook age of hyperventilating triviality. Yeager and his cast gave us a refreshing take on a relevant Shakespeare classic and a chance to reflect on the comedy of errors yet to come.