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Shakespeare Comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” Garners Big Laughs

May 18, 2023–Marking the 92nd Shakespeare production at Winsor, students from Class IV presented double interpretations of the circa-1590s play Much Ado About Nothing, which explores themes of love and relationships in a highly witty fashion. The first version was set in the Renaissance and the second in the 1950s. The shows were performed over the course of two days for both students, parents, and faculty last week. 

The Renaissance production, set in Messina, Italy saw students clad in period dresses, velvet coats with gold embroidery, floppy hats, and tall boots. A chamber ensemble of  strings, guitars, and harpsichord accompanied the production.  

“Everything you see today is student produced,” said Theater Director Jeremy Johnson regarding the set, costumes, music, actors, and stage production, noting how proud he was of all involved. 

Literally throwing herself into the role, Ella Troalic ’27 played Benedict A, one of the main characters who is quick-witted and arrogant. Trolic garnered lots of laughs from the audience when she crawled down the stairs showing off her physical comedy chops during a performance on Thursday morning. 

“I think this play can still crack up an audience in 2023 because the themes are the same as in a modern play today. Misunderstanding, betrayal, jealousy, comedy, and more are still themes that exist in plays today, which is why an audience can relate,” said Troalic after the performance. 

Emma Roffman ’27 attributed the strong reactions from her peers in the audience to the actor’s emotional and spirited performances. 

“If the audience is able to relate to the play and become engaged through the actors' emotions, they can easily find a comedy like Much Ado About Nothing funny and it feels natural for them to laugh. Had the characters simply stood on the stage and said their lines in a monotone, the audience would not be able to relate or find the play funny, even though the lines are the same, which is why the acting makes all of the difference,” said Roffman. “I know that in our play, the actors showed powerful emotion when they said their lines and had extremely funny blocking, such as crawling down stairs or hiding behind trees, and that is what caused the audience to laugh as much as they did.”

Much Ado About Nothing explores themes of love, the ways that we can be opposed to love and relationships, the position of women and the necessity of marriage, and the ways we can deceive each other and ourselves. The play revolves around two romantic pairings that emerge when a group of soldiers arrives in the town. 

Set in 1950s Messina, California, the second interpretation of the play opened with Bill Haley and the Comets “Rock Around the Clock” and cast members wore letterman jackets, poodle skirts, and scarves tied around their necks. 

Elena Bird ’27 acted in the 1950s version and was excited to play Beatrice A, a feisty, witty, and cynical character in the play. 

“I appreciated how my character’s costuming reflected her independence as I played one of the only women onstage wearing pants,” said Bird, who resembled a beatnik with a beret and a scarf tied around her neck. “I also enjoyed seeing the juxtaposition between the 1950s play and the Renaissance one, especially as it highlighted how the themes and comedy carried over and continue to be relevant nowadays.” 

Izzy Sun ’27, who played Benedict A in the 1950s version, thinks the costumes and the cast's efforts to be expressive in their roles was what really resonated with the audience.

“Body language allows the audience to better understand what's happening, and using cliches enables the audience to more easily internalize the role of a character,” said Sun. “I preferred the 1950s play because I believe that the costumes in the 50s fit me better as a person and I found the characters more relatable.”

Shakespeare productions are a Winsor tradition dating back to 1931, and are a culmination of interdisciplinary learning between English, acting, tech theater, music, and costume courses in Class IV.