Much Ado About Nothing
nytheatre.com review by Peter Schuyler
February 13, 2009
When Don Pedro and his men return to Messina after the war, they are received by the wealthy Duke Leonato at his estate for a month of celebration and revels. Romance seems to be in the very air, and soon love blossoms for young Count Claudio and Hero, the Duke's daughter. In Don Pedro's entourage there is one Benedick, a stout soldier and quick wit, who, when not at real war, is at a war of words with Beatrice, the Duke's equally witty niece. Don Pedro's misanthropic brother John does his level best to ruin the revelry, but after (you guessed it ) much ado about nothing, his lies are brought to light, he and his compatriots are brought to justice, and weddings and wooing go forth as planned.
This is a very confused production. There is a lot of good work on the stage, but it's completely overshadowed by some frankly bizarre choices by the production staff.
Mark Karafin's direction didn't make a great deal of sense to me. Some scenes are beautifully directed and played excellently (Act 2, Scene 3 specifically) bringing out huge laughs, while others (specifically Act 5, Scene 1) are full of choices so odd that they can only be attributed to the play being under-rehearsed or over-directed. There seem to be the bones of a concept loosely threaded throughout the piece, but instead of clarifying a specific theme it serves to further bewilder. For example, at the close of the play, Don Pedro stands alone onstage facing the audience while both sets of lovers are in silhouette behind him. What is Karafin trying to suggest, that people of power are destined to be single? It was this lack of specificity that was so constantly distracting that I had a very hard time enjoying the high points of the show.
Jessica Hinkle's lights and Kathryn Veillete's functional set suggest a pastoral Italy, brightly and lightly colored, a prime place to fall in love. In contrast Kathleen McAllister's costumes are pure Miami, uniformly bland and pale, so much so that many of the actors are completely washed out by the lights.
This is one of Shakespeare's true ensemble pieces, but very little of that teamwork atmosphere seemed to make it to the stage. I had some difficulty hearing many of the performances, and the Beckett is not a large theatre. Actors were constantly stealing focus from the main action of the scene, and there is a great deal of emphasis on comic bits instead of the comedy in the script.
That being said, there are performances that do deserve note. Mac Brydon as Benedick aptly leads the show, turning in a wonderfully wry comic portrayal. As Beatrice, the capable Elizabeth Zins gives a very serious performance, sometimes evoking more Macbeth than Much Ado. Cotton Wright's Hero is heartbreakingly sympathetic, wisely working her few lines for full effect. Jordan Brown as Claudio has some good moments but is in danger of coming across as callow, almost vindictive. Walter Brandes as Don Pedro gives a charming and stoic performance. Brad Fryman supplies a comic treat as Dogberry, never overplaying the buffoonery but letting the text do the heavy lifting for him.
Ultimately the production left me feeling a little cold. It has the potential to be a hilarious Valentine's romp, but all this is sadly squandered by confusing directorial choices. The capable cast struggles against one another instead of working together. For all the production's good qualities, it is the mistakes I took away with me, not the mirth.