Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Much Ado About Nothing
Highly respected Bruce Longworth directs this Much Ado. And although the show is smart and funny, several of our finest actors are forced to march out and say "huzzah!" (essentially) at regular intervals in the opening scenes, before it all gathers steam and as we settle in for what will eventually become two very enjoyable romances in the Sicilian port city of Messina.
But, in those first forty-some minutes, it's a battle against lowered expectations. Predictably, there's a "good Sicilian Don" and a "bad Sicilian Don"–though they are played by two polished and impressive actors, Chauncy Thomas (as romantic Pedro) and Sorab Wadia (as a sizzling John). Happily, they exist afresh here.
And you may cringe when I tell you that there's yet another gaggle of Shakespearean rustics involved. But in this one they solve a crime, which is great, instead of just putting on a dull, 400-year-old pageant at the end for the nobles, right when we're all thinking about going home. Thanks to these comic characters, and thanks to the whole cast, this staging of Much Ado actually rises above other plays by the Bard, to the modern eye. It's strangely refreshing, if you've seen A Midsummer Night's Dream or Love's Labor's Lost more than a few times, with their often wooden nobles and tiresome country folk.
Did I mention there's also a familiar Shakespearean constellation of two sets of lovers? English majors know of the battling Beatrice and Benedick: in this new telling, she's an independent, Hepburnian hoot in white slacks; and he starts out as a perturbed pest, begging comparisons to Daffy Duck. And yet, in the pure theater magic of this production, and thanks to the meddling of their friends, Claire Karpen's Beatrice is brought a tiny bit low, and Stanton Nash's Benedick somehow rises up to become a dour cosmopolite. They tear up the stage (and our expectations) under the erudite direction of Mr. Longworth.
And then there's Claudio and Hero, the younger pair of lovers. He's played by adorable Kenneth Hamilton; she by heartbreaking Carmen Cecilia Retzer. Heartbreaking because of the slandering of her name by the "bad Don" through his henchmen, who are led by the always-first-rate Aaron Orion Baker. And it's heartbreaking because this Claudio is so inflamed, believing the calumny. But all's well that ends well, as someone once said, and Maison Kelly elicits loud laughter in a scene with Jenna Steinberg, awkwardly teasing out the show's marquee love affair. Michael Thanh Tran lifts our hearts with two folk songs. And there's great work by Christopher Hickey and Gary Glasgow, defending the honor of the wronged woman.
The comedy is long on entrances and exits, thanks to the sprawling set. Actors lumber in across a swanky Cinemascope-wide palazzo frontage designed by Josh Smith. Like travelers down a long airport concourse, their dialog is preceded by the ungainly sight of them. And then, many of them trundle off, either to left or right, in their long goodbyes. Dorothy Englis's costumes for the women and the high-born are elegant, but the officer's uniforms not so much. We usually don't notice so much police presence in Shakespeare, and here it is a brightly colored platoon.
Still, absolutely one of my new favorites from Shakespeare Glen.
Much Ado About Nothing runs through June 26, 2022, at St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare Glen, 6604 Fine Arts Dr, St. Louis MO. For information and tickets, please visit www.stlshakes.org.
Additional Production Staff:
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association
** Denotes Member, USA Local #829 IATSE
*** Denotes Member, IATSE Local #6