Drama department’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ puts modern twist on Shakespeare

A promotional poster for 'Much Ado About Nothing' is shown. (Libby Langsner / The Tufts Daily)

This weekend, the Tufts Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies is putting a bold new twist on the Shakespearean comedy “Much Ado About Nothing,” directed by Senior Lecturer Sheriden Thomas. The rendition is set in a world inspired by the Golden Age of Hollywood, complete with the romanticism of movie stars and awards shows.

Sophomore Paige Walker, who plays Beatrice, one of the lead roles, explained the premise of the modernization: “If you know the original Shakespearean version of the show, it starts with the men coming home from war. And in our version, instead of coming home from war, they’re coming back from the Academy Awards.  So our opening sequence is them winning this award — so Don Pedro is this huge, big-shot Hollywood producer, Claudio is the leading man who has just found great success, and Benedick is the witty, intelligent screenwriter.”

She continued, “It’s a mix of the original text, which has been significantly cut down and had some rewording — and some fun colloquial things, so it feels timeless.”

Thomas explained that this setting allows the play to engage with contemporary versions of the issues originally presented in the Shakespeare text.

“We’re departing from strict period portrayal,” Thomas said. “As a director, I like to deal with the current times we’re in.  We’ve got gun control issues, we’ve got #MeToo issues, what fame does to distort power dynamics, and privilege.  We have what the media says about romance, [and] what Hollywood says about romance and love.”

Thomas continued, “We have gun-toting, duel-challenging males running around, we have — in this case instead of a war, we have fame, we have instead of Don Pedro being the head of his army, he’s the head producer who’s just recently won an award for best picture somewhere — and we’re not saying academy awards, but it will sound like that.”

Thomas also explained that adding new thematic undertones is possible because the themes of Shakespeare’s texts are so universal. 

“Shakespeare can hold all that because of the full humanity of what he portrays,” she said, “And that’s what people do with Shakespeare these days. There’s a lot of movie underscoring, bringing in the reality that movie underscoring can be very sentimental and hyper-romantic.”

Walker noted that this modernization calls attention to the timelessness of the story — especially when understanding Beatrice from a feminist standpoint.

“It’s interesting to look at her from the lens of when she was originally written in Shakespeare’s time — just the way that she navigates through gender roles, the way that she views her own sex and her own sexuality and her role being a woman in a man’s world, how she finds her own power in that and how she finds her own identity in that … and how we can see her as still being incredibly significant and incredibly noteworthy, through a new lens of feminism and female empowerment.”

The ensemble has been hard at work bringing this show to life, rehearsing for around 20 hours per week. Walker and Thomas both commented on the passion and hard work of the ensemble.

“They’re amazing,” Walker said. “They’re some of the coolest people I have ever gotten the chance to work with, and it’s so incredible to make art with such wonderful people every night, which is amazing. They’ve been a dream.”

Thomas urged everyone to come see the show. 

“It’s a lot of fun to watch. Though I say there are issues in there … it’s a Valentine comedy, there’s lots of music and it’s only two hours long with intermission … The cast is wonderful, the design is amazing — costume design, set design, it’s 360 degrees, and it’s gonna be a blast.”

“Much Ado About Nothing” opened this weekend, with shows on Feb. 14–16 and Feb. 21–23 at 8 p.m. in Balch Arena Theater. Tickets for students are $10, except for on Feb. 21, where they sell for $1, and can be purchased at tuftsdramadancetickets.com or at the Aidekman.