Reservoir Park’s band shell transformed into post-World War I New York’s Little Italy on Friday for the Harrisburg Shakespeare Co.’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing”
The comedy, the 26th year of “Free Shakespeare in the Park,” portrays the turmoil that often accompanies small communities and nosy family members.
The set consists of brick, apartment-style buildings complete with balconies, windows and lines of laundry, and it depicts the home of matriarch Leonata, played by Karen Ruch.
The play starts with Leonata welcoming home friends Don Pedro (Jeff Wasileski), Claudio (Ross Carmichael) and Benedick (Eric Dexter Brown), who are returning from the war. Claudio quickly falls in love with Leonata’s daughter, the lovely Hero (Lindsey Root), to the backdrop of biting, witty insults from Benedick and Hero’s cousin, Beatrice (Alexis Campbell). However, in the week before the wedding, the lovers trick Beatrice and Benedick into falling in love.
Meanwhile, the illegitimate son of Don Pedro, Don John (Garrett Knisley) attempts to disrupt the happy scene by tricking Claudio into thinking Hero is cheating the night before her wedding. However, his malevolent scheme is exposed. Claudio believes that Hero has died from a broken heart and is grief-stricken after he realizes her innocence. But Leonata reunites the couple, and the play ends with a cheerful dance.
The Gamut Theatre Group executes the drama in costumes appropriate for the early 20th century. The color of the women’s costumes often mirrors their characters. The lovely, feminine Hero frequently dresses in light pinks and peach-colored garbs, while the feisty, independent Beatrice wears an assortment of blue, purple and green.
The actors depicting the Little Italy residents execute the dramatic scenes in New York accents, while those portraying older characters speak with thick Italian accents to signify recent immigration. Further, the actors stay true to the time period, with many frequently lighting cigarettes with matches and smoking on stage. The production is generally quite authentic to the era.
The actors embody the characters they represent seamlessly. Campbell, who plays Beatrice, fills the stage with her larger-than-life character, romping around the stage with large gestures while speaking in a thick New York accent, while Knisley, portraying Don John, develops a convincing, sordid façade as his character causes mischief.
The actors use the set to their advantage. For instance, buildings almost become characters in their own right, used for the frequent eavesdropping and troublemaking in the play. So, much of the main dialogue occurs on the black stage in front of the set. Actors hide on balconies and even on the grass in front of the stage, peeking behind doors as soon as they risk visibility and comically tumbling over the stage steps, ninja-style.
Moments are illuminated by both lighting and music, with violins accenting crucial scenes. The lighting reflects the mood of the scenes, with unhappy scenes illuminated in blue while warmer moments are basked in an orange glow, and more intense scenes burn red. Lighting is also used in the windows of the set to dictate time of day and to create silhouettes.
Careful attention was paid to the sound and lighting, which added to the impressive acting and sets, marking a high-quality production for this year’s “Free Shakespeare in the Park.”
Free Shakespeare in the Park runs from May 31 to June 15 at the band shell in Reservoir Park. Shows run each week from Wednesday to Saturday and start at 7:30 p.m. Seating is not provided, so guests are encouraged to bring blankets or chairs. Tickets are free, but donations are accepted. Guests are encouraged to bring canned goods for Bethesda Mission. For more information visit www.gamuttheatre.org/fsip.