Staff Writers Jacquie Traenkle and Olivia Chiroiu review Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Isabel Beatriz Tongson (BC ‘26), which ran in the Lerner Black Box Theater from November 17th to November 18th.

Even those not well-versed in the world of Shakespeare are likely to recognize the tropes of the Shakespearian comedy. Lighthearted banter, minimal stakes, people finding love and neatly pairing together by the end; these are the conventions I expected to see in action as I attended King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe’s production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Lerner Black Box Theater. However, while the production, directed by Isabel Tongson (BC ‘26), was packed with laughs and lively performances, it also featured bold tonal shifts that reflected on the nature of love and relationships under colonialism. 

Much Ado About Nothing is set in the city of Messina, visited by a band of soldiers. Among these new arrivals is Claudio (Oliver Fuisz, CC ’26), a nobleman who immediately falls in love with Messinian local Hero. Meanwhile, Claudio’s witty friend Benedick has a push-and-pull dynamic with Beatrice, Hero’s strong-willed cousin, and their tenuous love is spurred on by others. The proceedings become even more complicated when the conniving Don John tricks Claudio into believing Hero has slept with another man prior to their wedding; this leads to her public shaming, Beatrice’s rage towards Claudio, and overall chaos until the truth is revealed. In the end, Claudio and Hero marry each other, and Beatrice and Benedick, still arguing, are also paired off and presumably in love. 

KCST’s production was full of standout performances,  including scene-stealing ones that connected the play to its comedic roots. Ryan Puterbaugh (CC ‘24) was excellent as Benedick, embodying the Shakespearean lines so that his wisecracking mannerisms felt natural and had great comedic timing.  As the troublemaker Don John, Jonathan Pankauski (SEAS 2nd Year Ph.D candidate) milked every drop of dialogue, using deadpan expressions and cape-based physical comedy to make a lasting impact. Jamie Treatman-Clark (CC ‘27) also had impeccable comedic timing and physicality as the bumbling Dogberry. The character who arguably received the most laughs was Ryan Crawford (CC ‘27) as Balthazar, the singing bard; his performance was a perfect combination of hilarious histrionics and genuinely incredible vocals. 

Other performances and casting choices stood out in their ability to convey meaning and present Shakespeare’s characters in interesting ways. Sofia DeSanto (BC ‘24) dominated the stage as Beatrice, emphasizing and even expanding the agency and wit of her character through her powerful voice. Even when I struggled to connect to the actual events occurring in the play, I felt Beatrice’s anger and integrity; they seemed to represent something deeper. Kiana Mottehedan (CC ‘26) took a different approach as Hero, often stone-faced and silent as she faced her supposed lover Claudio. Her muted presence felt purposeful, as if to demonstrate her lack of agency and the play’s conflation of love with conquest. On the broader casting level, there was a marked difference between the Messinian natives and the foreign visitors, with the Messinians representing a broader range of ethnicities and gender expressions. The dynamic between the two sides made it difficult to view Claudio, Benedick, and their gang of men as simple guests, but rather disruptive intruders into the self-sufficient society of Messina.

While some may have a preconceived notion that Shakespeare productions must strictly adhere to the original version, King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe strongly defies expectations through its formal elements. Throughout the show, Octavia Reohr’s (CC ‘27) lighting design seemed to be a prop, adding another layer of value and emotion to the pre-existing scenes. Rather than just the stage lights simply being on or off, their hues and textures seemed to mold around characters. For example, when depicting the sea, a brilliant blue would flood the stage, along with the soft melody of crashing waves, immersing the audience into the story. It was not only the intricate lighting and background music that helped bring the story to life but also Eden Johnson’s (CC ‘25) choreography. I did not know when attending a Shakespeare play I would also be granted a side platter of a dance performance; in multiple scenes, such as the masquerade ball, the wedding, or the duel between Verges and Beatrice, the choreography added flavor and another compelling dimension to the play. Even though Shakespeare’s intricate narrative contributed to the success of the show, it was truly the design and additional elements KCST included that made this show one to remember. 

Along the lines of rethinking the layout of a Shakespeare play, the director reshaped the meaning of Shakespeare’s words through the play’s ending. Although Much Ado is meant to be a comedy that culminates in a merry dance and festivities, Tongson specifically directed the show to leave a melancholy and unsettling aftertaste in the audience’s mouths. As she wrote in the playbill, “This production of Much Ado About Nothing reclaims the mainstream narrative of Shakespeare for historically marginalized voices.” Rather than taking the route of Shakespeare’s intended romantic comedy, this production highlighted the flaws of the original script by warping the love that Beatrice and Benedick found as one that does not leave them “in a better place than where they were at the start of the play…” The haunting and militaristic drumbeat, the dreary lighting, and the hypnotized steps of the cast around Beatrice and Benedick while they are deciding the fate of their so-called love compels the audience to question the effects of colonialism and if there can ever be true love within a social hierarchy.

Much Ado About Nothing via Olivia Kuan-Romano