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Did Shakespeare Know Any Black Folks?

The older I get, the more I appreciate the pure joy that results when amazingly talented people merge their creative genius and flex their uniquely honed giftedness to the delight of grateful patrons such as I.

I happened upon Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” on the All Arts Channel which is one of the “free” channels I get through Roku. It was presented during the summer of 2019 in New York’s Central Park as part of the Shakespeare in the Park series.

It made me wonder if Shakespeare knew any black folks.

Hands down, it is the most entertaining rendition of any Shakespeare play I have ever enjoyed. Actually, it might be the only performance of a Shakespeare play I’ve ever lasted through from beginning to end.

Directed by the Tony award director (A Raisin In The Sun) Kenny Leon, who cleverly set the production in the year of 2020 in Atlanta, GA. It’s an all black cast and acting in the role of Beatrice is the one and only “Taystee” from Orange is the New Black - Danielle Brooks. It features Grantham Coleman as Signor Benedick, Margaret Odette as Hero and Jeremie Harris as Claudio.

While you would still enjoy the play without knowing this: Three of the four actors mentioned above are Juilliard grads and Margaret Odette graduated from NYU Tisch & completed a Shakespeare intensive at University of Oxford.

For anyone that is familiar with the story line, you will find that not much has changed script-wise. Like most productions of Shakespeare presented to current day audiences, this version has been edited for time and still lasts over 2 enjoyable hours. Hither, doth, betwixt and hath along with other arcane aspects of 16th century english are delivered with such 21st century Atlanta freshness and flavor that I was able to follow along even though my brain was occasionally getting dinged by the unfamiliar words.

When Brooks takes the stage singing Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and her cast mates join in to create a mashup with America The Beautiful, everybody is blown away and all I could think of is Shakespeare posting a clip of that segment on his Instagram with the caption “2 beats or not 2 beats! #blackmuchadoaboutnothing

If you wanna see black excellence and up your classics game, you can watch the Public’s Much Ado About Nothing here until September 11, 2020.

Hear/Read an interview with Kenny Leon about his preparation and intentions for the production.

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