‘Much Ado’ about LGBTQ adaptation

Cameron Slusser (left) and Griffin Back star in “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Before arriving in Philadelphia, Peter Reynolds worked as an actor, director and theater administrator in Chicago, where he became an admirer of About Face Theater, a company that specializes in LGBTQ-themed plays.

For all of the boundless growth of Philadelphia’s theater scene over the past 20 years, there has never been a sustainable LGBTQ-themed local company — until now.

Along with local performer Lindsay Mauck, Reynolds founded Mauckingbird Theatre Company in 2008. But the pair has crafted a very different vision than their forerunners at About Face.

Mauckingbird is perhaps the only company in the country focused on producing classic texts through an LGBTQ lens. Its latest, which opens Friday, is a 90-minute gender-liberated adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”

“When we founded the company, I didn’t feel there were a lot of gay plays out there that I was interested in,” says Reynolds, who is also directing “Much Ado.” “There were a number that could be nicknamed ‘underwear plays,’ where the play is really an opportunity for the boys to take their clothes off. I had no interest in that. I was interested in telling good stories, and classic stories.”

Over the past four-and-a-half years, Mauckingbird has created 10 productions, but the company has had to do it on a shoestring budget, even by indie theater standards. It has proved more than challenging to create grant revenue for a gay-themed company. According to Reynolds, 90 percent of Mauckingbird’s total budget comes from ticket sales — an unheard-of figure in nonprofit theater.

“It’s important that we communicate what we mean by ‘gender-bending’ theater: We’re not casting a man to play Beatrice [in 'Much Ado'] as a woman. We’re casting a man to play Beatrice as a gay man. There’s an enormous difference there,” says Reynolds. “The texts are so strong — Moliere, Shakespeare — they’ve survived for generations, and I think it’s important for us to see what happens when we look at them in this way.”

If you go
‘Much Ado About Nothing’
Through Aug. 26
Off-Broad Street Theater
1616 Sansom St.
$15-$25, 215-923-8909


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