Much Ado is a queer theater kid's dream of a rager come to life, or a sober guest's nightmare. I had hoped Enso Theatre's interpretation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing might resemble my house party days, which were like a trashy Vine video in which a girl whips her hair to an awful EDM soundtrack in between clips of people brawling.
Instead, and for the better, Enso's Much Ado quietly asks the audience to examine what they think they know about queerness. Since the original script challenged traditional gender roles, making 16th and 17th century audiences anxious about upending the social order, queering it only carries on the Bard's traditions.
Much Ado boils the narrative down to a reunion of six longtime friends and their butler in a summer home. Their relationships have grown in unexpected ways: Claudio (Kiah Hart) rediscovers his feelings for childhood love Hero (Madeline Shier), who is smitten with commitment-phobe Benedick (Tim Fodge), though he's busy trading sharp but playful barbs with Beatrice (Caitlin Lushington). Meanwhile, Jon (Azalea Micketti) feels like a fifth wheel, and Hero's BFF, Margaret (Helena Fisher-Welsh), tries giving her advice between vodka shots. The relationships churn in your head as if you've also had too much booze.
Enso's ushers welcome you to a showroom-ready Mount Tabor home with a bag of party favors: a program, white rose petals to toss during the finale, and a masquerade mask. Before the production began, I met other patrons in the backyard, which held a little more than a dozen people. After cashing in my drink ticket, the immersive performance got underway in the living room, where we were allowed to stand or sit on the couch, the floor or a stool. Actors arrived in character, and like a real party, they had conversations with us amid the half-eaten appetizers.
Eventually, I warmed to joining a complete stranger's soiree. The actors' professional polish, along with the ushers' instructions, maintained a healthy barrier between the performers and the audience. They might sit beside you, or reach past you for the vodka bottle, but don't expect them to drop out of character, even if they occasionally drop the Shakespearean cadence for comedic effect. Other modern updates included sandpapering away the script's "thees" and "thous," as well as a bit in which Benedick begs to stand in line at Salt & Straw as a heroic act for Jon.
Much Ado's audience gets to witness genuinely adorable moments of queer intimacy with satisfying fidelity to the source material. As people come to understand what queerness really is—a personal state of being that doesn't conform to preconceived notions of how people should present themselves—the play is an essential experience, providing a judgment-free space to ask yourself what you think it means. All good parties must end, and Much Ado makes you feel welcome without overstaying.
SEE IT: Much Ado is at a home in the Mount Tabor neighborhood (the address is provided to ticket holders), ensotheatre.com. 7:30 pm Thursday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 pm Saturday, Sept. 26-28. Sold out.