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Much Ado About Everything: PlayMakers brings new spin to classic

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Photo Courtesy of PlayMakers Repertory Company/HuthPhoto.

A Shakespearean comedy comes to 1940s Appalachia in PlayMakers Repertory Company's rendition of "Much Ado About Nothing."

The play, which opened on Nov. 18, begins with the return of a group of victorious World War II soldiers to the fictional Messina, North Carolina. What follows is a show full of laughter, dancing and heartbreak, set within a picturesque storybook world.

The plot follows the tumultuous relationship between Beatrice and Benedick, who are constantly engaged in a battle of wits and bickering. However, their friends believe their hatred masks a secret romantic fondness and, throughout the play, they scheme to get them together. 

This performance marks the return to stage from screen for Aneesh Sheth, who portrays Beatrice. Unlike film and television, she said that the audiences within the theater act as the additional character of the play because she feeds off of their energy while performing

She said that "Much Ado" is her PlayMakers’ debut and that she was welcomed into the community with open arms, which allowed them to form relationships and further explore deeper moments within the play.

“The way that these actors have all transformed themselves into these roles is just— it's brilliant, it’s really inspiring,” Sheth said.

Vivienne Benesch, the producing artistic director at PlayMakers, said that there is no other Shakespeare play that brings "fabulous fun" energy to the table more than “Much Ado."

“It’s one of my personal favorite Shakespeare plays because it is so filled with wit and heart and an expansive vision for the soul,” Benesch said. “And part of that is not only sort of the rom-com, which it absolutely is, but it’s also expansive in the way it holds space for lessons to be learned— for who we are to grow and change and be.” 

She said that when putting on a Shakespeare production, there are always three time zones: the time in which Shakespeare wrote the play, the time period the play is set in, and the moment it is being performed in. Audiences can expect a different experience every time because of the various interpretations.

Lauren Van Hemert, a marketing consultant at PlayMakers, said that it’s been 38 years since the company last performed “Much Ado About Nothing" and the current season's production has an exciting, contemporary spin.

Shakespeare’s plays remain a wonderful investigation of gender, queerness and otherness, Benesch said,  and in PlayMakers’ production, the cast largely includes women, trans and non-binary performers.

Sheth said that she’s always seen Shakespeare performed in an "old-school" way. Different from the original production, PlayMakers’ production depicts Leonardo’s house, where the play is set, as a safe haven for characters that, because of the time period and setting, include Black soldiers coming home from war.

As a South Asian woman, she said this is the first time she and Sanjana Taskar, who plays Hero, get to exist as brown women in a Shakespeare play.

Sheth interpreted Beatrice’s character to be someone who had the support system to be herself authentically. While there isn’t language in the play that supports Beatrice as being trans, Sheth said that because she is trans, her interpretation of Beatrice becomes so. 

“The most exciting thing is being able to play Beatrice as a trans woman as I am, but there isn’t any narrative about it," Sheth said. "There isn’t an issue about it, there doesn’t tend to be any conflict around that. She is just able to live her life authentically in this place, which is wonderful.”

Benesch said that the play speaks to the contemporary world while letting the audience explore the theme of honor from different perspectives. 

Jeff Aguiar, engagement and education director at PlayMakers, said he loves the open feeling of being able to resonate with human beings going through the experiences of just "being" and how they create "so much ado" about what is just gossip. 

“I hope that people will walk away with an experience that is witnessed and testifies to the strength and the vulnerability of the human heart,” he said.

“Much Ado About Nothing” runs through Dec. 3 in the Paul Green Theatre.  Tickets start at $20 for general audiences, but UNC students can purchase them at the door or online for $10 using their OneCard.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Vivienne Benesch's last name. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

@madisongagnon9

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@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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