Putting Shakespeare’s comic “Much Ado About Nothing” in the round at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre was an inspired move, whether or not other factors forced its placement there.
The USD/Globe production plays through Nov. 17, under the assured direction of James Newcomb.
Set In Messina, “Much Ado” is about two sets of lovers. Claudio (Stephen Hu), companion of Don Pedro (Lowell Byers), Prince of Aragon, is soon to marry Hero (Allison Layman), daughter of Leonato , the governor of Messina (Kushtrim Hoxha), but they will be the victims of a nefarious plot to sabotage their plans. The villain is Don Pedro’s “bastard prince” brother, Don John (Adam Gerber).
The the other pair – Beatrice (Meaghan Boeing) and Benedick (Robbie Simpson) – are verbal sparring partners obviously made for each other who need outside intervention to end their “merry war” and realize their destiny.
Sean Fanning’s set, full of flower beds and shrubs, offers ample opportunities for Beatrice and Benedick to “hide” while their romance is set up by friendly conspirators. And inspired direction will reveal other “hiding places” close by. And in the round, the audience almost becomes a group of merry co-conspirators.
Adding to the hilarity are Messina’s constable Dogberry (Adam Gerber), whose lengthy malaprop-laden soliloquies simultaneously confound his friends and amuse us spectators, and partner Verges (Lindsay Brill), with a stance a bit reminiscent of Groucho Marx.
The cast is uniformly fine, but outstanding are Boeing’s Beatrice, Simpson’s Benedick and Gerber, evil as villain Don John and hilarious as Dogberry. Credit costume designer Elisa Benzoni in part: that costume has to be seen to be believed.
Her costumes for the rest of the characters are just a revelatory.
Newcomb has added a gypsy singer/dancer to the cast – the graceful Megan M. Storti – to handle the well known songs like “Sigh No More” and to add a few dance steps.
Speaking of dance, choreographer Amanda Penaloza-Banks also manages to fit some spirited group dances into the small playing space.
Set in Italy, “Much Ado” is always a crowd-pleaser. Newcomb plays that up with a bit of top-of-the-show dialogue in Italian – and by including a few references to everyone’s favorite Italian confection, gelato.
That’s how this production goes down – like a smooth and tasty dish of gelato.
“Much Ado About Nothing” plays through Nov. 17 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.
Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday ad Friday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 8 pm.
Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.