Catch! Think quick! Get your wits about you for The Old Globe’s Much Ado About Nothing as a battle of the sexes whips about in this interrupted wedding, faux funeral and a wedding musicalized.
As he states in the handout Performances magazine, returning director Ron Daniels conceives of Much Ado as quite different from Taming of the Shrew: “a darker tone…quieter, more mature and more domestic." The direction focuses on the passages of word play, puns and battle of wits allowing the actors to be the center of attention. Actors won’t be seen going past the first row or entering through the audience like in many Shakespeare plays at The Old Globe and elsewhere. Instead, characters are dealing with pent up sexual frustrations by smoking, allowing the chain smoking actor to smoke a cigarette or cigar ironically in the most health conscious city, though the details of this production are heavy on the human spirit. Particularly, do we love because we are loved by someone first as Beatrice and Benedick display?
The audience knows Georgia Hatzis’s Beatrice and Jonno Roberts’s Benedick are in love before they do. Hatzis and Roberts banter fiercely, describing each other as animals in a match of wits, felicitously, when birds can be heard from the San Diego Zoo. Why don’t they just kiss and get it over with? Oh, then we wouldn’t see Hatzis crawling on the floor hiding to ease drop on Hero and Ursula planting a lie of Benedick’s love. And we would miss her calling Benedick to dinner against her will with body language and eyes that could start a fire a Boy Scout would be proud of. Robert’s facial expressions are telling in his charming soliloquies as an audience member chuckles then he says his next line to her.
Kevin Alan Daniels’s Claudio and Winslow Corbett’s Hero is a sweet, innocent, requited love that is unwittingly side-tracked. Daniels, a newbie to The Old Globe, smoothly acts, sings and dances, pairing well with Corbett a foot or so shorter--quite his opposite and genuinely giddy and bouncy, trying to play Cupid with Beatrice and Benedick. Corbett and Daniels’ innocence is balanced with Jay Whittaker’s melancholy, ill-intentioned Don John. Whittaker delights in playing the villain making something out of nothing for his own amusement. Many will remember Whittaker in last year’s King Lear, as a transforming and self-examining Edgar, the unwanted later prodigal son, who received The San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Craig Noel Award in recognition of his work in the 2010 Shakespeare Festival. In this year’s festival, Whittaker will appear as Mozart in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus.
This year’s festival would not be the same without returning actor Donald Carrier as a well-intentioned Don Pedro and Charles Janasz as the willing brother, Antonio. Then there is the comic relief John Cariani as Dogberry speaking in a high-pitch Steve Carell sort of way walking toward the wings after each line only to turn and say another in an “and furthermore” attitude.
And thirdly or sixthly, as Dogberry would say, another stand-out is original music by Dan Moses Schreier. He enhances the voices with harmonies for the women in the opening scene as they sit and sew in Leonato's estate. The men later are given a harmony part; a couple of solo parts are sweetly sung by Kevin Alan Daniels and possibly Allison Spratt Pearce who has an almost walk on part as a woman in Leonato’s house.
The music, costumes and set design compliment the director’s vision of a country estate where the quiet women’s world intermingles with military men playing up the sexual tension and arousing insecurities. Ralph Funicello, scenic designer, uses a glass partition framed in curving black wrought-iron dividing up- and downstage, outdoors and indoors respectively. The partition adds mystery to Allison Spratt Pearce’s euphonic voice as she stands behind the glass. Courtly dances choreographed by Liz Shipman also use the two spaces by having the dancers move outdoors behind the glass, so that Hero and Claudio can dance downstage for a chance for the relationship to develop in closer view of the audience.
Costume designer Deirdre Clancy's use of cotton is appropriate for this country setting. Women are in puff sleeve, long, poofy dresses with layers of petticoats underneath and lots of white adorned by small red flowers. There is a white understated wedding dress for Hero and contrasting red military uniforms for the men. Once again the partition enhances a different level of the play by having the cemetery of ghostly statues covered in gauze upstage and Hero in the same downstage.
The Old Globe’s well-mannered Much Ado About Nothing, with its polished acting, delights the music lover and wordsmith and makes for a fine date. And it is more amusing than sitting home listening to Ashley pine over Bentley in The Bachelorette.