Saturday, August 24, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing Theatre Review

Kathryn Meisle as Beatrice and Derek Smith as Benedick in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Scott Suchman.

God Give Thee Joy

They say you get what you pay for; but what happens when what you get is free? In the case of the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Free For All production of Much Ado About Nothing... plenty (and then some!) Jenny Lord (All's Well That Ends Well) takes over from Ethan McSweeny without missing a beat, directing a lively production set in 1930's Cuba that had a full house doubled over in laughter (when they weren't dancing in their seats.)

The more I see of area theater, the more I find myself warming up to stage productions in general: No small feat, when you consider I'm a film critic first and foremost. From its spectacular set (think TV's Melrose Place, with a fountain in place of a pool) to its first-rate ensemble cast, Much Ado About Nothing is the kind of show everyone can enjoy. Although there's betrayal and deceit (after all, it's Shakespeare) the "Bard of Avon" delights his audience with a first half of comedy that's second to none.

The plot is two-fold and easy to follow. Basically, it's two love stories (briefly twisted together) with a happy ending (if you scream spoiler, I'm going to scream back at you!) Updating it from Sicily to Cuba is a logical, yet smart idea all the same. More importantly, the actors are brilliant... specifically Kathryn Meisle and Derek Smith who reprise their roles as Beatrice and Benedick (the Bogey & Hepburn of the 17th Century.) I'm no expert, but comedy seems the hardest skill to master on stage; yet Meisle and Smith prove Leonato (Tony Plana) correct when he says, 'There's a skirmish of wit between them.' Way to undersell it Governor!

The love-hate relationship between Beatrice and Benedick handily overshadows the secondary romance between Claudio (Joseph Midyett) and Hero (Ana Isabel Dow) although the latter earn their due praise in the second act. Young, attractive lovers? Color me bored; but older, sassier love? You had me at sassy.

Case in point: The moment when Benedick realizes his true feelings for Beatrice. 'I will be horribly in love.' followed by, 'The world must be peopled!' This, after a 1930's version of Frogger where Benedick hilariously dashes in and out of a conversation between Claudio, Leonato and Don Pedro (Dion Graham.) Smith's physical comedy is on display throughout, although his brief capture under a rocking chair is priceless. So too is a scene where Seacoal (Carlos Gonz├ílez) walks by, ringing a dinner bell before shaking his head in dismay at a spread-eagle Benedick in hiding. Thunderous applause from the audience followed a pause in the action... most assuredly, the vast majority intended for Smith.

Not to be outdone, Meisle takes her turn hiding, as Hero and Ursula (Deidra LaWan Starnes) tell tales while Beatrice pops in and out of a fountain (If you think standing up, completely soaked in front of a full house is easy, think again.) Meisle is at her best while trading barbs, but her physical comedy comes a close second to Smith.

Ted van Griethuysen as Dogberry and Floyd King as Verges in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Scott Suchman.

The second half ditches comedy for the aforementioned betrayal and deceit (not to mention attempted murder, etc.) but maintains an overall good will throughout. Thom Rivera delivers plenty of dastardly delight as Don John, the play's main antagonist, while Ted van Griethuysen wins laughs later on as the amateurish Dogberry.

Much Ado About Nothing is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, and having suffered through Joss Whedon's modern film adaptation earlier this year, I'm happy to see it back on stage (where it belongs.) Free For All continues through September 1st with tickets available via lottery, subscription or the old-fashioned way... queuing up for day-of seats (up to 200 available per show.) Click here (then select TICKETS) for more information.

Grade: B+