In a year with productions of tragedies such as Macbeth and All My Sons, the Intrepid Shakespeare Company decided to put on lighter fare for the summer. Earlier this season, there was a well-received staging of the modern tongue-in-cheek play, I Hate Hamlet, and there is currently a new interpretation, set in 1931, of the classic comedy, Much Ado About Nothing.
Don Pedro (Matt Thompson), a prince from Aragon, brings his soldiers, Benedick (Intrepid’s Co-Artistic Director & Co-Founder, Sean Yael-Cox) and Claudio (Charles Evans Jr.) with him to Messina to relax after fighting in a war. Benedick spends most of his free time verbally sparring with the sharp-tongued Beatrice (Shana Wride).
Claudio quickly falls for Beatrice’s goodhearted cousin, Hero (Erin Petersen), and soon they are engaged to marry. Trouble ensues when Don’s evil illegitimate brother, Don John (Danny Campbell), plots to ruin Claudio and Hero’s upcoming nuptials.
Director, Richard Baird, does not make his rendition a bloated and unfocused affair, which is always a risk with any fresh take on Shakespeare. He promptly throws the audience into the action, giving them the opportunity to immediately appreciate the author’s colorful language.
Although Much Ado About Nothing has some uncomfortable confrontations, Baird mostly keeps the atmosphere upbeat. There is no shortage of hearty quips, with a couple of instances of surprising slapstick thrown into the mix.
His staging can be very relaxed, particularly in scenes where the characters are merry and carefree. Colleen Kollar Smith’s dance choreography and Chistopher Renda’s low lighting with lanterns design contribute to the calming vibe in the black box theatre.
Music also plays a big part in contributing to the overall mood of the show. Brian Mackey’s sound design features plenty of upbeat songs and several members of the cast, including Evans Jr., Ruff Yeager and Gerilyn Brault, provide stirring vocals throughout the evening.
Kristin McReddie’s costume design is sophisticated, while also helping to distinguish the numerous people in the story. Some of the costumes even elicit laughs, including the ones worn by the constable Dogberry (Tom Stephenson) and members of the Watch.
Yael-Cox brings a sense of wacky humor as the initially shallow bachelor, Benedick. A few of his most memorable moments are during droll soliloquies. The performer’s body language combined with his commanding voice gives viewers the impression that Yael-Cox is talking directly to them during the extended speeches.
Wride plays Beatrice with an old fashioned saucy attitude. Her delivery and knack for physical humor is reminiscent of the quintessential screwball comediennes from the 1930’s. There are a lot of layers to Wride’s take on Beatrice, since she makes Benedick’s possible love interest a woman who becomes more susceptible as events unfold.
Yael-Cox and Wride have easygoing chemistry that is refreshingly breezy. Even when the plot gets into darker territory, they make an irresistibly charming pair.
Stephenson’s interpretation of Dogberry is an uptight depiction of the policeman. He delivers his dialogue in a very serious and dry manner, while the other members of the Watch come across as unintenionally goofy. This choice does pay off, particularly after Dogberry is crudely insulted towards the climax.
The rest of the actors, including Thompson. Patrick McBride, Amanda Schaar, John Tessmer and Merrick Hanna bring a lot of personality to their parts. They hit all of the big jokes in the text, while also putting their own ironic spin to a couple of minor lines of dialogue.
Much Ado About Nothing is sharp and romantic theatre that provides highly satisfying escapism in a relaxing auditorium that is filled with loveseats, settees and chairs. Two for two for Intrepid’s big “Summer of Fun!”
[box] Much Ado About Nothing runs August 1-17, 2014 at San Dieguito Academy, just east of the I-5 freeway on Santa Fe. Drive. Abundant free parking is available. Performance times are Thursday & Friday 8pm/ Saturdays at 4pm & 8pm/Sunday 2pm. [/box]