Regional Reviews: San Diego
The familiar story of the warring lovers, Beatrice (Sara Topham) and Benedick (Michael Hayden), told amid treachery cued by sibling rivalry, provides appropriate stakes for romance among the privileged. Ms. Marshall has set her version on the 1930s Italian Riviera, and doing so allows scenic designer John Lee Beatty, costume designer Michael Krass, and lighting designer Stephen Strawbidge to have a field day with a two-story mansion whose garden features carefully trimmed trees and two bubbling fountains. Cole Porter music wafts through the air, courtesy of Abigail Grace Allwein's violin and James Michael McHale's guitar. Ms. Marshall has even persuaded Broadway composer Stephen Flaherty (Once on this Island, Ragtime) to provide music for Shakespeare's song, "Sigh No More."
Other than the period touches, Ms. Marshall has staged her large-cast production conventionally. A detachment of military troops headed by Don Pedro (Michael Boatman) arrives at the home of Leonato (René Thornton Jr.) and are welcomed to rest and relax. Claudio (Carlos Angel-Barajas), a protégé of Don Pedro's, is immediately smitten with Leonato's daughter Hero (Morgan Taylor), and his attentions are reciprocated. Meanwhile, Hero's sister Beatrice renews her verbal jousting with Benedick, one of Don Pedro's officers.
Claudio arranges a quick marriage with Hero, but Don John (Manoel Felciano) plots to embarrass his brother, Don Pedro, by making Hero appear unfaithful. Meanwhile, friends of Beatrice and Benedick plot to get each of them to acknowledge their love for one another.
After intermission, Don John's plot seems successful but then unravels. The unraveling ends up involving a bumbling cadre of watch led by Dogberry (Fred Applegate) and Verges (James Newcomb).
The casting is solid and sometimes more so. Ms. Topham proves to be a smart physical comedienne, and Mr. Hayden anchors the pair's interaction in ways that keep it from going over the top. Mr. Applegate and Mr. Newcomb take over driving the action following intermission and deftly play the malapropisms while keeping the plot's momentum going while the principal characters are offstage. Mr. Newcomb even plays a mean herald trumpet.
As the villain, Mr. Felciano finds as much humor as possible in his role while not turning the performance into caricature. It's a wise choice, and it sets the tone for the plot against the lovers to be taken seriously, within the context of romantic comedy.
Ms. Marshall encourages her actors to make similar choices, resulting in smart performances filled with the small touches that enhance audience enjoyment. And she takes Shakespeare seriously that he wants his play to end with dancing, choreographing a nice reprise of Mr. Flaherty's "Sigh No More" that brings the entire company on stage.
Summer Shakespeare or no, this Much Ado would be a treat in any season.
In addition to the actors named above, the large cast includes Nora Carroll, Yadira Correa, Daniel Ian Joeck, Jose Martinez, Renardo Charles Pringle Jr., Larica Schnell, Jersten Seraile, Samantha Sutliff, Wenona Truong, Jared Van Heel, and Eric Weiman, all students in The Old Globe and University of San Diego Shiley Graduate Theatre Program. The creative team also includes sound designer Sten Severson.
Much Ado About Nothing, through September 16, 2018, at The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego CA. Performs Tuesdays through Sundays at 8pm through September 1. Beginning September 2 through September 16, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday performances begin at 7pm. Tickets are available by calling The Old Globe box office at 619-234-5623 or by visiting www.theoldglobe.org.