If the true definition of a comedy is a play or story of 'light and humorous character', then the definition of of a tragedy must be the opposite. “Much Ado About Nothing” is a comedy that borders on the tragic. If it sound like an oxymoron, so be it.
When we consider that when -soon to be smitten bride- Hero (a soft and mellow Morgan Taylor) is wrongly accused of infidelity just hours before her marriage to Claudio, the young officer of her dreams, and every male in her orbit believes the worse, there's not too much funny about that.
Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” is now in a fun filled, witty and overall entertaining romp,except... when the other shoe drops and mayhem steps in.
Presented on the Lowell Davies Festival Stage at the Old Globe through Aug. 18th and with director Kathleen Marshall’s pinpoint staging it brings out the good, the bad and the ugly of those prone to see the comedy and those who see the tragic (in real time) elements of how women are now and have been treated over the centuries.
Leave it to Will to tease us with the merriment of seeing Beatrice (a spirited Sara Topham) and noble Benedick (a witty and bantering Michael Hayden) play out their push me pull you love antics leading up to their marriage and then horrify us with the way he (Shakespeare) treats Honor by her soon to be bridegroom, Claudio (Carlos Angel-Barajas) when he is quickly blinded by unfounded gossip about his soon to be bride.
|Carlos Angel Barajas and Morgan Taylor|
As Beatrice and Benedick romp around two fountains on the patio of Leonato’s estate (John Lee Beatty) like two love sick school kids pretending not to care about each other all the while making fools of themselves while falling all over themselves doing it, another scenario is playing out to dishonor, Honor.
Nobleman and adoring father Leonato (René Thornton Jr.), whose estate is the setting for our story in 1930’s Messina, Italy is so quick to believe the worse about her he turns against his daughter on a dime, just on hearsay after the vicious rumor is spread about her unfaithfulness with another on the eve of her wedding day.
|Sara Topham and Michael Hayden|
Claudio and Leonato manhandle and almost strangle a shocked and unsuspecting Hero at the wedding ceremony, when they learn of the so-called ‘deed’. Luckily for her Friar (Daniel Ian Joeck), who was prepared to marry them, saves her life by keeping whisking her off and keeping her safe in the rectory.
Sullen Don John (Manoel Felciano), the bastard brother of Don Pedro (Michael Boatman), long time friend of Leonato and thorn in Claudio’s side, is the one stirring up the nasty plot against Hero after he was enlisted to make things easier for the young and inexperienced soldier.
On the down low he hired Borachio and Conrad the two blokes (Eric Weiman and Yadira Correa) who set Hero up by staging a mock affair to make it appear that Hero was being compromised.
Not the brightest stars in Shakespeare’s playbook, they are the ones paid by Don John to create this mischief and the very same inebriates who confess to Dogberry (Fred Applegate) the Constable, and his bugle blaring sidekick Vergas (James Newcomb) after apprehending them.
|James Newcomb and Fred Applegate|
Dogberry, in his own inimitable and bumbling way, is the one who finds out the truth about their trickery, thus becoming the real hero in this (if you will,) ‘comedy of errors’ and when ‘all’s well that ends well’ we exit the theatre smiling knowing that yes… we just spent two plus glorious hours enjoying ‘much ado about nothing’.
With a nimble cast to match the comings and goings, and with eye popping, colorful with flowing fabrics and soft linens to capture the different personalities (Michael Krass) and a glorious pink (yup) stucco two story mansion (Beatty) to encompass this little frolic, and with director Marshall’s (“Love Labor’s Lost”) sharp eye for comedy, this “Ado” waltzed along to its own enchanting tunes and themes with violin and guitar (Abigail Grace Allwein and James Michael McHale) serenading us with the music of Cole Porter). “It’s De Lovely”.
|Cast of "Much Ado"|
Composer Stephen Flaherty even composed one of his own for this particular production, “Sigh No More” that puts a period to shows end with the entire cast dressed to the nines dancing and singing, frolicking and just plain having a grand time.
|Sara Topham and Michael Hayden|
No wasted talent here. Sara Topham is playfully serious as Beatrice’s cat and mouse game sparring with her Benedick, a worry some adversary, plays out and finally gives in after some much needed prodding and tossing aside her convictions never to marry. Ditto can be said about Michael Hayden’s Benedick.
Taylor’s Hero and her Claudio champion, making a sweet looking couple (more than he deserves) finally tie the knot as Thornton, Jr. comes around and offers both Beatrice and Hero’s hands in marriage.
Thornton, Jr. most regal looking and impressive doesn’t always deserve the respect he demands, but in Shakespeare’s world, he gets away with it only intensifying the role he plays as benevolent parent and bully, walking that fine line. Unfortunately there isn’t much ado about that to do.
But as the title implies, and as this production indicates the cast playfully full-filled their obligations to bringing laughter and sighs of delight to those in the audience on a beautiful San Diego evening.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Aug. 18th.
Organization: The Old Globe
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park,
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Lowell Davies Festival Stage
Photo: Jim Cox