Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Much Ado About Nothing
Also see Susan's review of Adding Machine
Douglas has set William Shakespeare's witty comedy not in the islands, but in an ethnic enclave of Washington in the days before the annual Caribbean Carnival. People of all ages and races mingle in a city alley bordered with balconies, fire escapes and the back entrance to Messinah's, the shop run by Leonato (Doug Brown) with the help of his daughter Hero (Lexi Victorian) and his niece Beatrice (Rachel Leslie). The men in their lives, Benedick (Howard W. Overshown) and Claudio (Alexis Camins), are D.C. policemen rather than soldiers as in the original.
Many of the updates and tweaks fit beautifully. The masquerade ball that brings the lovers together sparkles with Helen Q. Huang's elaborate carnival masks and costumes; the Caribbean accents are melodic and sweet; and the music of Shakespeare's words receives another assist from a character called "Brother" (Craig Wallace), the neighborhood's disc jockey, providing a soundtrack for all moods and, most delightfully, a hip-hop rendition of lyrics from the original play.
Overshown is a charming presence as Benedick, sure of himself yet never taking himself too seriously, and Leslie matches him with passion and intensity. (Occasionally they mug a little too much, but that passes.) Victorian is touching, especially in the darker second half of the play. And fireplug-shaped Dogberry (Alex Perez) and tall, gawky Verges (Matt MacNelly), the goofy guards who stumble on a plot to destroy the planned marriage of Hero and Claudio, steal the play whenever they appear.
Tony Cisek's scenic design and Dan Covey's lighting design offer the beauty and rough edges of a crowded urban neighborhood where Leonato grills ribs, people gossip and share confidences, and a tragedy leads to an impromptu memorial set on a chain-link fencenot to mention an illuminated "palm tree" to add to the tropical mood.