Marin Shakespeare director Robert Currier has elected to set this comedy in backwoods Kentucky, allowing some of the more buffoonish characters plenty of room to expand into believably wide-eyed hillbillies. The cast developed their Appalachian speech patterns on their own, close enough to the real thing yet broad enough to encompass the absurdities of Shakespeare’s wildly convoluted plot.
There’s music galore–guitar, flute, mandolin and the occasional banjo slipping into impromptu bluegrass concerts in many-part harmony, and Claudio’s (Joshua Hollister) memorably plaintive solo as he ponders love lost by the error of his ways. In place of renaissance swordplay there’s swirling country dance choreography–three-step waltzes and intertwining contras to bring the stage to vibrant life.
The convoluted plot—three separate story lines woven together in a fabric impossible to weave within the scope of a review—develops at a leisurely pace while the case for mistaken identity as the route to true love unfolds.
Damien Brown inhabits the role of Benedick as though he were born to it, bringing a street-smart manliness to every scene he’s in, cajoling his friends and challenging his adversaries with a street-smart manliness, wooing his lover with uncertain tenderness. Elena Wright gives yet another star turn as Beatrice, the sometime object of his love, a true vixen playing—at first—with is affections, until the truth of who-loves-who comes out. Hero (Nicole Aposto Bruno), the object of Claudio’s affections, is a genuine pleasure to watch as she takes over the stage in the third act.
All of the minor characters get their moment in the spotlight, none so well deserved as the King’s-English-mangling Dogberry (Barry Kraft) and his sidekick Verges (Debi Durst), serving up some of the best of the Bard’s malapropic wordplay. A sleazier character than Don John could not be imagined, and Clay David plays the role of this manipulator with Machiavellian glee. He’s the man we love to hate.
In the best of Shakespeare’s comedies, the Bard leavens the mirth with a tragic interlude, some place where his mastery of the true breadth of the human experience can be given scope. In Much Ado, that moment is captured in Leonato’s display of a father’s grief and despair when he believes his only daughter Hero, the rose of his life, has died. But his grief is as much as at the rumored circumstances of her demise, wherein she has not only died, but her supposed unchaste behavior in doing so has besmirched the family name. It takes real talent to make this contrivance a tragic fall from grace, and Steve Price is a master at this.
Of course (this is Shakespeare’s comedy, after all) Hero recovers. The father is overjoyed, her errant suitor Claudio forgiven, and Beatrice and Benedick come together at last, as it was always meant to be. “Much Ado About Nothing,” indeed!
Through July 23, 2017 at Forest Meadows Amphitheater, Dominican University, San Rafael CA
Box Office: Marin Shakespeare
Review by David Hirzel