For the third year in a row, on a chilly autumn night in October, Smith Auditorium did its best Globe Theater impression and hosted the American Shakespeare Center’s Touring Troupe as they performed “Much Ado About Nothing.”
“Much Ado About Nothing” is a story of miscommunication and love, with the plot being driven along by conflict that is talked about but never actually happens. Two young lovers, Claudio and Hero, attempt to get married but rumors circulate and Hero’s loyalty to Claudio comes into question. Characters Benedick and Beatrice stand at the center of the story, oftentimes yelling at each other. However, in the end they discover their true feelings for each other .
Coincidentally, actors Patrick Earl and Stephanie Holladay Earl, who play Benedick and Beatrice respectively, are married to each other in real life. Earl, who was surprised to hear that Manhattan College is actually in the Bronx, talked about performing in Riverdale saying, “[It’s] one of the prettier parts. Like a little compact oasis.”
The performance, which heralded the start of Family Weekend here at MC, packed Smith Auditorium with a variety of students and their families, professors and alumni. Prior to the start of the show and also during intermission, the cast sang songs and danced on stage in a similar vein as the musical “Once.” The men in the ensemble were dressed in Navy uniforms and performed the Village People’s classic hit, “In The Navy,” much to the delight of the audience.
The American Shakespeare Center’s Touring Troupe tours the in the Northeast during the fall, and in the spring they go everywhere from Florida to Texas, as well as a five day stint in Nashville, Tenn. Earl’s favorite venue is Austin, Texas, but he says the troupe enjoys their time in New York because many members of the cast have friends working in the city.
The arrival of the troupe to Manhattan College’s campus three years ago can be attributed mostly in part to English professor Brian Chalk. Chalk’s former professor and mentor, Ralph Alan Cohen, founded the American Shakespeare Center and Chalk says when he started teaching at Manhattan, “I had it in my head to bring them here. I believe in the way they do Shakespeare. It corresponds with the way I teach it.”
The popularity of the event has grown since the troupe performed “Twelfth Night” in 2012, with “Much Ado About Nothing” having a similar turnout as “Othello” did in 2013. Chalk commented on the event’s popularity, saying, “It’s extremely gratifying. My hope was to make Shakespeare part of the culture here. For just one night in October, to have so many students turn out, it’s beautiful to me.”
“Shakespeare is a dynamic, transformative experience. Education and enjoyable, entertaining experiences do not need to be mutually exclusive,” Chalk said.
Judging by the continuous roars of laughter echoing throughout Smith Auditorium on Friday night, Chalk might certainly be onto something.
Students seemed to agree that the performance was excellent, with senior Casey Barrett described it as, “a great way to spend a Friday night.” Senior Brendan Goggins hailed the entire production as fantastic, “The company brought a lot of fun and energy to an already amazing play,” he said.