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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Much Ado About Nothing
Barrington Stage Company


John Cariani, Michael Kushner and Ben Cole
For more than an hour, Julianne Boyd's production of Much Ado About Nothing, continuing at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, through August 25th, is far more dramatic (in tone) than comedic. This is not problematic but, perhaps, unexpected. It is a story about two couples. Hero (Christina Pumariega) and Claudio (Babak Tafti) are youthful and their stars seem crossed. Beatrice (Gretchen Egolf) and Benedick (Christopher Innvar) are silver-tongued battlers who take belligerent positions, typical of married people, before any wedding day might occur.

After intermission, the previously brightly lit stage grows dark and the second act opens. John Cariani, playing the constable Dogberry, takes over, steals the show, and holds the audience near with antics, physical pliability, enviable comic timing, and an annoying high-pitched voice which perfectly suits his character. So it goes and the plot shifts back to twosomes and those around them. Dogberry and his helpers Watchman (Ben Cole) and George Seacoal (Michael Kushner) excel with slapstick—what an understatement.

The production runs for about two hours and forty minutes and theatergoers are presented with options to: focus upon the conflicted B&B relationship; see if Hero follows his early, emotional feelings of love for Claudio; or tune eyes and ears upon Dogberry, the confused one who speaks as if he really might understand something of what he says.

Director Boyd sets the scene in Sicily and the year is 1936. The play opens with string musicians Chris Devine and Michael Nix on their instruments. They are joined, often, by Jeremy Robin Lyons (music director and clarinet) and Franca Vercelloni on accordion. Composer Andrew Gerle provides an impressive original score. Designer Michael Anania creates a large veranda-like expanse with fruit trees. Costumer Sara Jean Tosetti's selections for mid-1930s Italy are excellent: colorful, enhancing. Choreographer Cassie Abate's dance expertise is a fine addition. It is a complete show, filled with hi jinks, thoughtful intra-relationship exploration, good and bad guys—something for everyone. It demands versatility from the performers and this cast is up to the task.

Dogberry is full of himself, witty, confused, in charge of others, and he must react upon the moment. Cariani is originally from Maine and he developed as an actor when, two decades ago, he was part of the Apollo Company at StageWest, located in Springfield, Massachusetts. Since then, he has distinguished himself on screen and stage. On Broadway in 2004, he was nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of Motel the tailor in Fiddler on the Roof. He is also a skilled playwright, known by some for Almost, Maine. He fills his current role with energy and invention.

Both Benedick and Beatrice are prideful and each is smart. Beatrice talks of her disdain for Benedick but one thinks, "Oh, really?"

Egolf is simultaneously lanky and beautiful. Innvar's Benedick, bearded during the opening act and then clean-shaven, makes fun of love but by the time this comedy concludes, he is quite pleased to be a bridegroom.

Thus, the first portion of Much Ado About Nothing, on the BSC main stage, is really not about nothing; on the contrary, it is quite engaging and thematically involving. No, this is not unbearably serious stuff. We watch and listen as humans might or might not become wedding partners. Yes, Beatrice and Benedick are mutually insulting. Others, such as the unlikable Don John (Mark H. Dold) and waiting women to Hero such as Margaret (Emily Taplin Boyd) and Ursula (Kim Wong) have supportive roles. Shakespeare's plotting, throughout, is significant. The second act features Dogberry and company—enough said. Boyd, directing, proactively helms this production, one which features more than 20 actors, musicians, and many a genre.

Much Ado About Nothing continues at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts through August 25th. For tickets, visit barringtonstageco.org or call (413) 236-8888.


Photo: Kevin Sprague


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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