By my troth! Blue Box Theatre delivers originality and laughs in “Much Ado”

L to R: John Paul Middlesworth as Leonato, Naiya Alexis as Beatrice, Rachel Horowitz as Margaret and Katie Bellingham as Hero. Photo by Pamir Kiciman.


By Pamir Kiciman

CHAPEL HILL — Under a quarter moon last week Friday, Blue Box Theatre company presented its outdoor production of “Much Ado” (a modern take on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”) at the pastoral Honeysuckle Tea House, an ideal venue for this frivolous comedy.

Blue Box is a new theater company in the Triangle that likes to do things differently. In existence since January of this year, this is only its second production. The name derives from the company’s intention to present theater outdoors and plays on the classic “black box,” but in this case, the presence of the sky makes it a “blue box.”

Founded by Grace Siplon and Chella Anderson and originally conceived of while they were undergrads at UNC-Asheville, Blue Box follows the simple wedding rhyme of Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue as its creative directive.      

“The idea actually came to me in a dream and I just fell in love with it as a way of formatting a theatrical season. We want to focus on doing shows that are either completely original or reimagined,” said Siplon.

The current production of “Much Ado” represents something old.

The play comes with unique features such as live music before the show, food and specialty libations from Honeysuckle and a bonfire after the show. According to Siplon, Blue Box is “dedicated to staging unique productions in unexpected venues. It is our hope to offer a full evening experience in addition to a great show.”

Making theater has many associated costs, and one of the highest is the rental fee for an event space. Blue Box approaches this and other aspects of its productions with a profit-split model.

“When picking a space, we focus on mutually beneficial relationships,” Siplon said. “For instance, in exchange for performance and rehearsal space at the Seymour Center, we offer improv and playwriting classes to their participants.”

The same is true for how the company conducts the rest of its business. “We are an ensemble-focused theater company,” Siplon explained. “How we live that vision is by creating a less structured sense of hierarchy in our shows and operating on a profit-split model with all actors.” 

Honeysuckle was suggested to Siplon by her grandmother who was in attendance.

“They were incredibly enthusiastic about the partnership and even suggested that we add a show on August 31 so that we could do it under a blue moon, which we did,” Siplon elaborated.

While Shakespeare’s play is a classic comedy of errors, it’s one that takes the format to an outrageous degree. The plot is built on deception upon deception, creating almost impossible layers of storytelling. Fortunately, the program smartly includes a handy insert that breaks down every scene.

The basic premise is the love story between four characters: Claudio and Hero, and Benedick and Beatrice. It takes place in the idyllic Italian town of Messina at nobleman Leonato’s home, which Blue Box has turned into a wellness retreat, bringing to mind HBO’s “White Lotus.”

Claudio and Hero fall in love at first sight — a common trope — and are quickly engaged. But Don John, the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro who is visiting his longtime friend Leonato with an entourage, makes spiteful plans to disrupt their happiness.

Meanwhile Benedick and Beatrice are at first locked in a duel of repartee, attempting to outwit each other as they have in the past. Since the wedding of the smitten couple Claudio and Hero is still a week away and everyone has recognized how perfect Benedick and Beatrice are for each other, plans are hatched to make them fall in love.

Left: Laird Davis as Claudio and Katie Bellingham as Hero. Right: Naiya Alexis as Beatrice and Cameron Waters as Benedick. Photos and photo collage by Pamir Kiciman.

What ensues is an unholy mess, with bruised feelings but a happy ending and a ton of hilarity.

Siplon who directs the play is very capable and doesn’t miss a beat. Shakespeare presents many challenges, but none of them were apparent on opening night. This is a production that has been rehearsed just the right amount of time and makes ample use of the venue. The cast enters the nontraditonal staging areas from various points on the farm and the minor less desirable aspects of blocking, lighting and sound are easily forgiven because the frolicking is just too good.

Special care has been taken to make the play contemporary. No period costumes are used and the retreat staff wear name tags on their white top and khaki bottom uniforms, clipboards in hand. Wet towels and drinks circulate. There’s yoga and a hike that a “current activity” sign announces. Phone calls are made and texts are sent. There’s a same-sex couple and walkie-talkies. There’s some 420 activity even, unlit but pretend inhaled. Selfies are taken and other moments are snapped with a phone camera.

Top L to R: Laird Davis as Claudio, Cameron Waters as Benedick, Daniel Cryer-Muthedath Ryder as Don Pedro, John Paul Middlesworth as Leonato. Middle left L to R: Rachel Horowitz as Margaret, Katie Bellingham as Hero, Pamela Alberda as Minister. Middle right L to R: Brook North as Dogberry, David Cole as Verges. Bottom left L to R: Katie Bellingham as Hero, Julie Hedgepath as Ursula, Rachel Horowitz as Margaret. Bottom right L to R: Grace Derenne as Don John, J. Comello as Conrade. Photos and photo collage by Pamir Kiciman.

Credit to both Siplon and the entire cast, the pace is at a good clip and the energy never sags despite the heat and humidity the actors had to perform in. Although it didn’t make too much of a difference for the cast, the temperature started cooling just before the intermission and continued to become more pleasant as dusk turned to night and moonlight became part of the show’s lighting.

Siplon announced at the top of the show to use the available bathrooms whenever, not to wait for intermission and to continue enjoying concessions from Honeysuckle, which many did.

It was great to hear quite responsive laughter throughout and sincere applause at the end of scenes. This also revealed that attendees weren’t intimidated by Shakepeare’s iambic pentameter and the sound challenges of an open space didn’t mute the meaning of the dialogue.

While Shakespeare’s writing naturally has language barriers, Siplon said, “Language is always changing, but the feelings beneath the words are universal and timeless. Shakespeare wrote human stories through the language of poetry. You might not always follow the poetry, but you can always access the feelings.”

Another credit to the show’s director and cast, every ounce of comedy is played up in a balanced way without grandstanding. Other than the comedic writing of the Bard himself, well-executed physical comedy is a part of “Much Ado” and actors convey even more humor with well-placed, non-spoken vocal sounds and facial expressions.

It is a high energy show. The cast does an excellent job with Shakespeare’s prose and verse. The lines never lag and the delivery is well-enunciated and smooth. It is also unpretentious and natural.  

The preshow musical entertainment was provided by Bluegrass Battleship, a five-piece band who sang old-timey tunes, as well as Simon & Garfunkel. On other nights, Britt Wilson will perform.

“Much Ado” has two more performances on August 31 and September 1, both at 7 pm. Tickets are available from Honeysuckle at this link.

Seating is under good cover and the show is rain or shine, with no refunds available due to weather.

Pamir Kiciman is a creative who has been a photographer and actor since the age of five. The longtime writer is now returning to the theater and acting. He has spent most of his nearly three years in the Triangle writing arts and culture features. To learn more, visit or contact him by email:

Share This Article

Scroll down to make a comment.

Be the first to comment on "By my troth! Blue Box Theatre delivers originality and laughs in “Much Ado”"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.