Much Ado adaption pops with colour, life… and some sexism.

Published on: May 4, 2015

Filled Under: Featured, Reviews

Views: 1118

By Jeffrey Johns

Guys.  Ever wonder what would have happened if the Bard had been born and bred in Brampton, Ontario?  Aside from creating a good opportunity for some alliteration, that is. 

Well, wonder no more!  Thanks to director Richard Rose and consulting director, Ravi Jain, we have the Tarragon’s new production of Much Ado About Nothing.

It’s an adaptation of the Shakespeare play, adapted and updated so that it takes place in modern day Brampton.  And so that Prince Don Pedro is now Lord Tata, a big shot hedge fund manager instead of a big shot noble dude.  The adaptation liberally intersperses newer language into the original prose, but in a way where those terms seem to integrate without pulling one out of the story.

And there is a lot of other good stuff here too!  There are portions of the dialogue in Hindi, and surtitles that provide translation to those of the audience that require it (like me!).  There are lots of laughs to be had, particularly in the second half, and particularly from the two members of the Queen’s watch.  And Michelle Tracey’s set, being the façade of a home, and the yard in front, is about as intricate and detailed as I have seen at Tarragon.   And there is some dancing!!! Like Bollywood style!  And drama!!  In particular when the mayor (David Adams) and his sister (Ellora Patnaik) accuse Tata and his man Darius (Ali Momen) of accusations unjust in the extreme.

I think I really have only one criticism of the play:  it’s the tone.  The original work is a comedy with a happy ending for all and this adaptation buys into that 100%.  I agree that if I am looking through the way-back-machine at the 1500s, that this is about as happy an ending as can be expected.  But here we are not asked to do that.  We are in 2015.

I mean look at what happens in this thing.  (Look guys, normally I wouldn’t talk about this as much out of fear of spoiling the plot for you, but c’mon…it’s Shakespeare…that’s been Hollywood-ized…I am assuming you know it.)  A known scumbag accuses a young woman of “stepping out” (Get it? You get it).  Right there, I am a little put off by the fact it seems like the big problem is not that she may have “stepped out” while betrothed, but rather that she might have “stepped out” at all.  That she may not be chaste. Ugh.  Then every male character believes him.  She says she is innocent?  Her words are discounted.  Her cousins and Aunt believe her and say she is innocent.  Discounted.  Most of all by her potential husband, who kindly waits until the wedding day to accuse her so he can publicly humiliate her and achieve maximum shaming.  And at least at first, not even by her father, who has to be talked down from physically assaulting her.  Then the dastardly plot is discovered, and there is a big party and the young lady gets to marry…the same guy who has shown nothing other than that he considers her a chattel and a disturbing capacity for cruelty.   This is a comedy?  I’m sorry guys, but a story like that occurring today? To me that’s not a comedy, that’s an effing tragedy.

Now guys, you may say to me “Hey JJ, do you think that maybe maintaining the storyline as is, in a contemporary adaptation, may be a directorial choice and act as a narrative for the state of gender inequality that can exist within South Asian culture?”  
And I hear you!  And say “good point!”  But if that was the case, it wasn’t clear to me what still playing it straight as a comedy with a happy ending was supposed to accomplish.

I have to say, my biggest hope was that at the second wedding, this young lady would just tell this guy to stick it and say that she was going backpacking across Europe instead.  And when of course that didn’t happen, I found myself, at the play’s conclusion, with the cast jubilantly dancing around and the audience enthusiastically clapping in time, wondering “what the eff is everybody so happy about?”

But like I say, otherwise I liked it! Really!

Rating: Three and Three Quarter antiquated social mores out of Five!

Much Ado About Nothing is on at the Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave.) until May 31 For tix. click here. 

Photo: Nova Bhattacharya, Gugun Deep Singh, Ellora Patnaik, Tahirih Vejdani, Sarena Parmar, Anusree Roy, David Adams, Alon Nashman, Ali Momen (Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)

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