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THEATER REVIEW: Intrepid’s “Much Ado About Nothing”

Lovers can be such idiots, can’t they? Especially those who refuse to recognize the connection everyone else sees immediately.

Beatrice (Shana Wride) and Benedick (Sean Yael-Cox) have been verbal sparring partners for some time, it seems, but it takes trickery by their friends to make them realize they are meant for each other.

Typical Elizabethan froth? Much ado about nothing, perhaps? Well, yes and no.

There’s also a dark edge to Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” when treachery results in near tragedy for another pair of lovers. But for the most part the play is dominated by comedy and Beatrice and Benedick, and their ultimately futile attempts to protest too much.

“Much Ado” is set in Messina, the Sicilian capital, but Intrepid Shakespeare Company moves the time up to 1931, when Don Pedro (Matt Thompson), prince of Aragon, his bastard brother Don John (Danny Campbell) and two friends – the shy young Italian nobleman Claudio (Charles Evans, Jr.) and Benedick – arrive from an unspecified war.

Claudio wastes no time falling for the lovely Hero (Erin Petersen), daughter of Leonato (Ruff Yeager), the governor of Messina. Don Pedro intercedes with his old friend Leonato on Claudio’s behalf and the wedding is set.

But Don John – called a bastard for more reasons than parentage – concocts a ruse to convince Claudio that Hero is unfaithful. Unfortunately, he succeeds, resulting in an ugly and near-tragic scene at the wedding.

But fear not, all ends well.

The play isn’t about “nothing.” It’s about perception and accusation (“noting”), misinterpretation and the ease with which people can be led to misconstrue actions or tricked into believing something that isn’t true.

Richard Baird, one of the best interpreters and directors of Shakespeare, has been too rarely seen and much missed since he left local stages a few years ago. Here he directs with a sure hand for both comedic and serious aspects of this play. (Word has it that he may be moving back here. Let’s hope so.)

Baird gets plenty of help from a spot-on cast headed by Yael-Cox as the woman-hating Benedick, who finally admits he’s met his match in the equally and delightfully stubborn Wride, a joy to watch as Beatrice.

Yeager, fresh from playing John Barrymore in Intrepid’s recent “I Hate Hamlet,” is suitably patrician as Leonato, movingly contrite in admitting his fault in believing his brother Don John’s allegations about daughter Hero.

Petersen is exactly right as the lovely and virtuous Hero, though modern sensibilities (even in 1931) might question Shakespeare’s contention that she would so easily forgive and agree to marry a man so easily duped as Claudio. Evans has a thankless task but makes Claudio as believable as the Bard allows.

Danny Campbell plays the villain Don John with the evil intent and cold calculation of an Iago, finding it startlingly easy to mislead others. Patrick McBride convincingly portrays his equally reprehensible dupe Borachio.

Tom Stephenson plays the show’s clown, the syntax-mangling constable Dogberry, with all the misguided and hilarious sincerity the part demands.

After their terrific “I Hate Hamlet,” Intrepid Shakespeare Company concludes its “summer of fun” with another winner – and one of the Bard’s most delightful pieces.

The details

“Much Ado About Nothing” plays through Aug. 17 at the San Dieguito Academy, 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas.

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 4 and 8 pm.

Tickets: (800) 718-4253 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.