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FairfaxEducationCAPPIES: Madison thespians serve up creative take on Shakespeare

CAPPIES: Madison thespians serve up creative take on Shakespeare

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by ASHA DAS, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology

Disrupted weddings. Faked deaths. Scandalous accusations.

In a show full of deception and drama, there’s one thing to be sure of: the ado about James Madison’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing” definitely isn’t about nothing!

Written in the late 1590s, Shakespeare’s comedy revolves around two young couples in the town of Messina, Italy, and the chaos that abounds once the meddlesome Don John gets involved. (After all, no love story is complete without a good scandal.)

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A tale of love and deceit, Madison’s production tied together complex technical elements and skillful acting to breathe fresh life into this classic.

Jonah Uffelman shone as Benedick, a sarcastic young lord who swore he would never marry. Uffelman’s physical comedy lent itself well to the role, especially in moments such as when he mimicked being put in the stocks if he ever was to be a married man.

Even when he was not the focus of a scene, Uffelman’s facial expressions were dramatic and hilarious, from incredulous reactions when overhearing conversations to a giddy smile after a kiss.

The counterpart to Benedick, Mary Ulses’s clever and quick-witted Beatrice brought a lighthearted energy to the stage through witty comebacks and teasing interactions with other actors.

Ulses also demonstrated an impressive range during the scene in which Hero is accused of infidelity. Her heartbreaking sobs showed the depth of Beatrice’s pain.

Together, Ulses and Uffelman were bursting with chemistry, which made the scenes in which they were teasing each other especially entertaining. The pair played off each other to create a natural banter, filling the stage with a contagious energy.

The performance was rounded out by Katie Hindin (Hero) and Aaron Shansab (Claudio). Hindin’s portrayal of Hero, characterized by her youthful enthusiasm and innocent smiles, perfectly fit the character’s sweet disposition. Shansab’s Claudio endeared himself to the audience through earnest and consistent facial expressions, providing a window into Claudio’s thoughts and feelings.

The duo was particularly believable as a couple, their natural chemistry shining through. During the proposal scene, their swoon-worthy stage kiss reflected the talent and commitment of both actors.

In order to reflect the emotions experienced by the characters, sound design by Patrick Thurston and Zee Azari infused music that carried the audience through the depth and breadth of the characters’ feelings. They utilized lively, upbeat songs for the dance scenes and a more somber melody when Claudio visited Hero’s grave.

Sets by Nic Crews, Carissa Ma and Alex Lundquist provided the perfect backdrop for the small Italian town of Messina. The multi-story structure allowed actors to make use of the entire space, such as eavesdropping on a conversation from the level above. Green-flowered vines covered the set and crept onto the walls of the auditorium, creating a cohesive atmosphere that brought the audience further into the world of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

C.C. Stefanik’s detailed costume design showed relationships between characters as well as staying accurate to the time period. Down to the last member of the ensemble, each costume was well thought out and appropriate.

Stefanik used colors to contrast characters, such as the stark difference between the daring red of Don Pedro’s soldiers and the dark blue of the plotting Don John’s. This choice accentuated the distinction between the two groups.

James Madison’s performance of “Much Ado About Nothing” showcased the technical and dramatic abilities of their students, bringing centuries-old characters and stories to life with a new energy.

The Sun Gazette partners with the Critics and Awards Program (CAPPIES) to present student-written reviews of local high school theater productions.
For more on the initiative, see the Web site at www.cappies.com/nca/.

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