Much Ado About Nothing
Director Ron Daniels, who tackled Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew last year, appeared as though he would continue the battle of the sexes with his Petruchio, Jonno Roberts, playing Benedict to Georgia Hatzis' (Mr. Roberts' real-life spouse) Beatrice. Instead, Mr. Daniels became more interested in Much Ado's broader theme, how love entails deception, both for self and others. And when deception is revealed, not everyone is happy about it.
The play's deception is benign on its surface until villainy takes it too far. Returning from a successful battle, Don Pedro (Donald Carrier) seeks to find appropriate wives for two of his top lieutenants, Benedict and Claudio (Kevin Alan Daniels). There's one-stop shopping to be had at the estate of Leonato (Adrian Sparks) where two eligible women, Hero (Winslow Corbett), Leonato's heir, and her cousin Beatrice reside. Don Pedro arranges with Leonato for a match between Claudio and Hero and then cooks up a plot to convince both of the headstrong Beatrice and Benedict that they are loved by the other. Meanwhile, Don John (Jay Whittaker), Don Pedro's bastard brother, dismayed that Don Pedro might use the Claudio/Hero union to block his claim to power, concocts a scene to make Hero appear to be unfaithful to Claudio on the eve of their wedding. Complications ensue, but as Much Ado is not Romeo and Juliet all turns out well in the end.
The deceptions turn out to be easily accomplished, and only by chance is the evil one unraveled ("chance" humorously allowing Shakespeare to introduce the malapropos of Dogberry, played by master clown John Cariani). All it takes for Beatrice and Benedict to fall for each other is to have trusted friends tell them that the other is in love with them. By the time the deception is revealed, the two are convinced they are in love in any case. Claudio and Hero are equally taken with each other, but Claudio and Don Pedro are also easily convinced of Hero's supposed infidelity and are not assuaged by her claims to the contrary. There is enough meaning being assigned to meaningless acts that I was at one point ready to call out the famous line ascribed to Freud: "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."
Or, maybe it was Groucho Marx, who famously used a cigar to create his character. In any case, the production could use a bit of Groucho in it, subversive and told with sly humor. Mr. Daniels' show is lovely to look at (credit once again Deirdre Clancy's costumes) and intimate in feel (credit Ralph Funicello's set of glass doors, which effectively divide the stage into "inside" and "outside" areas and force the action to be staged close to the audience, while creating a background through which peripheral characters can move). But, especially in the first third of the play, there are more sighs than spark among the performers, particularly, despite their obvious chemistry, between Beatrice and Benedict. Even Mr. Cariani, who doesn't appear until late in the play, takes a while to warm up to Dogberry's slips of the tongue.
By the time one has seen all three plays in the Globe's annual Shakespeare Festival, it is interesting to compare performances across the productions. Mr. Daniels and Ms. Corbett are paired in an arranged relationship in both The Tempest and in Much Ado, and they seemed to be quite nicely matched. Mr. Roberts brings a bit of Caliban's longing to Benedict's confident charm. Mr. Carrier shows that he can play practical rulers of very different types in all three plays. Mr. Janasz has the role of wise councilor down cold. Ben Diskant impresses with a sweet singing style as both Ariel in The Tempest and Balthasar in Much Ado. Jay Whittaker, however, goes from playing a manic Mozart in Amadeus (for my money, the best individual performance of the festival) to playing a Don John so self-contained that his villainy seems to arise from forces beyond his control and thus almost apologetically drives the latter half of the play.
Taking all this in, I wondered whether Much Ado had been given less rehearsal time than the other two productions. The bones of an interesting play were present on opening night, but the meat wasn't hanging from them quite right. Performances run through September 24, however, and as the company settles into a repertory routine I hope that a version that owes a bit more to Groucho will emerge.
The Old Globe presents Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare. In repertory through September 24 at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, on the Old Globe campus, 1363 Old Globe Way, in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets ($29 - $64) may be purchased by phoning (619) 23-GLOBE or by visiting the Old Globe website.
Directed by Ron Daniels with Ralph Funicello (Scenic Design), Deirdre Clancy (Costume Design), Alan Burrett (Lighting Design), Dan Moses Schreier (Original Music and Sound Design), Charlie Reuter (Music Direction), Steve Rankin (Fight Director), Liz Shipman (Movement), Jan Gist (Dialect Coach) and Bret Torbeck (Stage Manager).
The cast includes Michael Stewart Allen (Borachio), John Cariani (Dogberry), Donald Carrier (Don Pedro), Anthony Cochrane (Friar Francis, Sexton), Winslow Corbett (Hero), Kevin Alan Daniels (Claudio), Ben Diskant (Balthasar), Georgia Hatzis (Beatrice), Charles Janasz (Antonio, Verges), Deborah Radloff (Ursula), Jonno Roberts (Benedick), Ryman Sneed (Margaret), Adrian Sparks (Leonato), Jonathan Spivey (Conrade) and Jay Whittaker (Don John) with Shirine Babb, Adam Daveline, Grayson DeJesus, Christian Durso, Andrew Hutcheson, Rachael Jenison, Jesse Jensen, Jason Maddy and Allison Spratt Pearce (Ensemble).
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