“Much Ado About Nothing” Fills the Schaeffer Stage with Light and Laughter


Credit: Bates Theater and Dance Instagram

Near the end of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” on the Bates College stage, during a particularly tense argument about a young girl’s honor, a man rounds on a woman protesting her child’s innocence, and yells at her, “I will not hear you.” The woman draws herself up to her full height, steps towards the man, and screams right back, “I will be heard!” It is a delightful burst of female pride, in a moment that does not usually allow it: in the original Shakespeare, this fiercely brave mother is a man.

To be fair, even in her female form, the character is not free of misogyny: minutes before, she stood onstage and told her daughter she deserved to die for the crime of (gasp!) premarital sex. Like all mothers, she is flawed and complicated. But even so: when Sydney Childs ’24 drew herself up to her full height and screamed in the face of a man who just disparaged her daughter, it was hard not to feel empowered and delighted by her.

This is Bates’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing” at its very best: fierce, proud and bursting with female strength. The production, which ran from March 16 until March ’20 and was directed by Assistant Professor of Theater Tim Dugan, is explicitly concerned with gender: a program note written by dramaturg Yuanrun “Diana” Zhou ’23 mentions the “deep-rooted sexism” in the play and its world, and the clash of characters’ “progressive ideals and the confinements of their reality.”

In the original Shakespeare, that reality is Elizabethan-era Sicily; in Bates’s production, it is Bar Harbor, Maine, immediately after World War II. Aside from a few word substitutions to accommodate the setting, and the substitution of a matriarch for the original script’s patriarch, the story is otherwise unchanged: it centers around Leonata (Childs), a proud aristocrat, who invites a group of soldiers returning from war to stay at her home for “at least a month.” 

When the battalion, led by Don Pedro (an excellent Dhruv Chandra ’25), arrives to a house already full of servants and friends (Maggie Nespole ’25, Ananya Rao ’25 and Emma Seitz ’25), chaos erupts between the soldiers and Leonata’s family: Captain Claudio (Adam Joseph Matos ’26) falls immediately in love with Leonata’s daughter Hero (a refreshingly sweet Maia Seigerman ’26), while Lieutenant Colonel Benedick (Brady Chilson ’23) and Leonata’s niece Beatrice (the stellar Emily Maria Diaz ’23) pass the first few acts incessantly bickering.

As is perhaps to be expected in a Shakespearean mansion stuffed with soldiers and aristocrats, several people have some tricks up their sleeves. Don Pedro and Leonata are convinced that Benedick’s and Beatrice’s banter is a sign that they are deeply in love, and so concoct a plan to have each of them overhear a conversation about the other’s infatuation. 

Meanwhile, the scheming Don John (the deliciously terrifying Ali Sheikh ’23) and his right-hand men (Danny Liu ’24 and David Allen ’24) plot to break up the other set of lovers by tricking Claudio into believing that Hero is carrying on an affair. Luckily, the trickery is caught by the hilariously incompetent policeman Dogberry (David Walker ’24) and his crew (Joaquin Torres ’25, Caroline Cassel ’24, John Wilkins ’23, Brendan Fitzgerald ’23 and Spencer Obiero ’25).

The officers reveal the betrayal with the aid of a helpful sexton (Sophie Wheeler ’25), Hero and Claudio profess their renewed love for each other as Beatrice and Benedick finally kiss, a double wedding is officiated by Sister Francis (a delightful Isabel Fronzaglia ’26), and all the chaos is revealed to have been, well, much ado about nothing.

As in many comedies, the plot is only sort of the point. Yes, we carefully note what alliances are forming; yes, we laugh at the jokes that make social commentary. But just as fundamental to the play are the jokes that are there just to be funny (the bumbling constable who counts to two, sixth, last and then first), the moments of wonder as we marvel at the set and costumes and the joyful pleasure of the communal storytelling that only live theater can bring.

At Bates, we are given additional moments of theater magic to marvel at. Joining the massive cast of ’20 actors onstage are five live musicians (Isa Shapiro ’25, Ava Clanvy ’25, Tori Kusukawa ’23, Julianne Massa ’25 and Sophia Cattalani ’25) playing guitar, bass, drums, tenor saxophone, and trumpet in the swinging brassy style of the 1940s, when this production is set. They are often joined by Seitz singing classic songs and accompany more than a few joyous (and well-choreographed, thanks to Mia Bernstein ’23, Peter Nguyen ’24 and Lauren A. Reed ’23) dances.

Similarly impressive are the other technical elements of the show. The technical elements, including light and sound (operated by Sierra Stark ’25 and Caroline Friedman ’25), are smooth and seamless. And of particular note are the costumes, both in their quality and their quantity: there seems to be no shortage of bright fabric and sparkly masquerade masks, and every single actor makes several costume changes. 

These elements are all there, of course, to highlight the actors, who are truly brilliant. Of particular note is Diaz as Beatrice, who has the emotional range to make us howl with laughter when Beatrice sneaks around the stage to overhear private conversations and cry as she clutches her cousin after Don John’s betrayal. 

Chilson as Benedick and Sheikh as Don John are delightful foils, the former bursting with pure goodness and the latter glimmering with evil in a way that makes the plot easy and fun to follow. 

And Childs, as Leonata, garners perhaps the most laughs: with her particular talent for background reactions, physical comedy and facial expressions, she steals the show even when she is not speaking.

These elements — the bursting talent of the actors, the precise technical elements that look like magic, the joyful immediacy of live theater — are what the production does phenomenally well.

There are also moments that leave a bit to be desired. There are moments that feel a little bit too self-aware, as if the actors are trying to be funny at the expense of their characters being funny; a case in point is the policemen’s Watch. 

The setting of Bar Harbor is underutilized: for most of the play, it could be any charming villa, any time in the twentieth century. And for a production whose dramaturg notes that it is about characters who “come together after a traumatic collective experience,” there is strikingly little actual trauma: the supposed World War II veterans seem to carry no scars from presumably being face-to-face with a genocide that killed six million. 

These are issues that would, admittedly, be difficult to address without larger changes to the original Shakespeare text than the Bates production seems willing to make — and issues that had far more to do with the choices made offstage than the choices made onstage.

The choices that did happen onstage, though, were generally spectacular. Under the weight of “Much Ado About Nothing,” the Schaeffer stage was bursting with energy and enthusiasm, color and choreography, light and life. It is the gold standard for what theater at Bates can be, and a powerful emblem of hope for its future.