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Dramashop stages modern-day 'Much Ado'

ne doesn't usually associate Shakespeare with beach volleyball, Dunkin Donuts or music by Sting, but MIT's Dramashop has incorporated all these elements in an updated "Much Ado About Nothing," set on an American resort island.

In this classic comedy of love, scorn and perfidy, Don Pedro, the leader/president of the free world, is visiting the island summer home of a close friend after winning a civil war/election against his brother. Don Pedro's purpose is to rest, reward his supporters and repair the relationship with his brother.

"We're doing it in modern dress because I didn't want to set up the additional barrier of period/style between the actors and the text," said director Michael Ouellette, lecturer in music and theater arts. "Actors who start out fearful of the language, and dubious about their ability to make the characters and situations live, find the experience more and more delightful and enriching."

Updates include modernizing the medieval watchmen into the local police who, fascinated by the president's secret service, discover a new method of law enforcement. And Ursula, usually a waiting woman for Hero, the island host's daughter, has become Hero's college roommate. The production "keeps the attitude of luxury and materialism, but makes the characters very real," said sophomore Ania Busza, who is playing Ursula. "Even though they speak Shake-spearean English, these are people we've met before and can relate to."

In addition to the traditional theater crafts of acting, mastering iambic pentameter, building sets and making costumes, students have contributed their unique talents and experience. Brett Taylor, a graduate student in aeronautical/astronautical engineering at Draper Lab, not only plays the lovelorn soldier Claudio, but as a second lieutenant in the Air Force, he also keeps the company on their toes about military procedure.

Paulash Mohsen, a graduate student in chemical engineering and champion ballroom dancer, has given dance lessons for the Act One party scene with his partner, Ayellette Robison. Although not a musical, "Much Ado" has been scored with music from Sondheim, Harry Connick, Jr., Sting and an original musical setting for "Pardon, goddess of the night" by Eddie Kohler, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science.

"We've tried to take the stuffiness out of what most people think of Shakespeare and give it a fresh, exciting, modern taste," said producer Lin-Ann Ching, a junior in architecture. "Michael breathes new life into the play with his enthusiasm and incredible abilities."

"Much Ado About Nothing" will be performed Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 6-8 and Feb. 13-15, at 8pm in Kresge Little Theater. Tickets are $7, or $5 students/seniors, with $1 discounts per ticket for groups of 10 or more. For more information or reservations, call x3-2908 or e-mail <>.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 5, 1997.

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