Dallas — There are many, many reasons audiences have loved Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing for the last 400 years or so. The lively comedy has music, mischief, witty wordplay, thwarted and redeemed love, fools aplenty, villains, and a delicious battle-of-the-sexes subplot. Shakespeare Dallas and director Patrick Kelly aim to hit all of those highlights with their straightforward production; however, it still comes off as a bit stilted and bland.
All the right ingredients are there for the show to be great: the aforementioned can’t-miss source material; a pedigreed, effective director who is experienced with the Bard; beautiful and talented leads; and a similar (in many cases the same) artistic and technical crew who are working on the fantastic Tartuffe currently running at SD. It is mystifying, but the whole is not as good as the sum of these parts.
It is unnecessary to recount the well-trod plot. In fact, the opening night audience certainly had no problems following the story, often speaking lines along with the actors. Kenneth Branagh’s sun-kissed, wildly popular 1993 film version with its mix of British stage actors and Hollywood stars has done much to endear the play to modern (casual?) theatergoers.
Jeffrey Schmidt plays the lord of Padua, Benedick, who swears never to fall in love or marry. His portrayal is charming and funny, if a bit too clownish and vampy at times. Tellingly, Schmidt’s Benedick gets more laughs than the usually uproarious Dogberry (Ethan Norris); however, he generates little chemistry with his romantic foil, Beatrice (Tiffany Hobbs). It is difficult to see how the proud, delightful and disdainful Beatrice (especially as Hobbs plays her) would fall for such a silly Benedick.
One of the strongest parts of the cast is Christian Taylor’s portrayal of the evil bastard, Don John. It does not hurt that Taylor resembles a young and dashing Orson Welles as he plots and menaces with his manicured mustache and slicked-back hair.
Of the problems that plague the show, most of which are fixable: There is a static feeling to the play that is expressed through the rigid body positions of the actors. Although the usual habit of some performers to fidget or shuffle through their lines was gone on opening night, we had instead unnatural poses with lots of thumbs in belts and hands resting on sword pommels, incongruous to the action.
The fact that the sound was off at the performance reviewed also affected the play’s momentum. Microphones kept cutting in and out, especially Dogberry’s, and there was much shouting that overloaded the speakers. These issues and a particularly raucous crowd may also have contributed to the preponderance of pauses and breaks in the speeches.
Perhaps one of the trickiest parts of staging Much Ado is that audiences tend to fixate on Benedick and Beatrice to the detriment of the primary plot and romantic leads, Hero (Audrey Ahern) and Claudio (Haulston Mann). If we do not care about the two young lovers and their plight we lose the balance of light and serious that propels the play, which is all the more reason to make sure to cast the parts properly and play them with vigor.
All is not bad. The show’s musical sensibility and songs (composition by Max Hartman) comprise some of the best parts of the production. Hobbs even begins the show with a lovely rendition of the play’s “Sigh No More, Ladies” song. Jennifer J. Madison’s well-fitted and detailed period costumes stand out well in front of Donna Marquet’s simple set of cutout orange tree structures and white, geometric screens.
Even with all the aforementioned negatives, the healthy gates, happy faces and laughter speak volumes about the popularity of the play and this production’s ability (warts and all) to still please. And that is certainly much ado about something.
» Our review of Tartuffe
» Much Ado About Nothing runs in rotating repertory with Tartuffe, here are the details:
- Tartuffe Wednesdays-Fridays at 8:15 p.m. through July 18
- Much Ado About Nothing runs Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8:15 p.m. through July 19
- Mondays are dark