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THEATER REVIEW: “Much Ado About Nothing” is much ado about greatness

A melancholy tone underlies the familiar silly business in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” playing through Sept. 24 as part of The Old Globe’s summer Shakespeare Festival.

You’ll hear it in Dan Moses Schreier’s lovely original music, much of which is in a minor key. The opening-night audience noted it when Don John (Jay Whittaker) broke a wine glass and his hand began to "bleed" (I'm told it's scripted). And in parallel with the jocular tale about lovers-in-spite-of-themselves Beatrice and Benedick is a darker story of deception, treachery and near tragedy concerning another pair of lovers.

Razor-tongued Beatrice (Georgia Hatzis) and Italian nobleman Benedick (Hatzis’ real-life husband Jonno Roberts), equally adept with a verbal joust, both protest too much, dissing the wedded state and swearing they will remain single.

These two have been verbally sparring for years, or so it seems, and it doesn’t occur to either that they fight because they are soul mates – until their friends conspire to lure each separately into a state of romantic readiness.

Sounds like typical Elizabethan froth, right? Much ado about nothing, perhaps?

But hold on. Benedick’s buddy Claudio (Kevin Alan Daniels) falls for Hero (Winslow Corbett), daughter of Leonato, the governor of Messina (Adrian Sparks). The too-shy Claudio gets his friend Don Pedro (Donald Carrier) to woo her for him at a masked ball.

But after the wedding is set, the play takes on a darker cast when Don John (Jay Whittaker), the evil bastard brother of Don Pedro, decides to get back at his brother by setting up a scene in which Hero looks unfaithful, leading to a near-tragic scene at the wedding.

This play isn’t about “nothing.” The title is a pun on “noting;” the underlying topic is perception and misinterpretation. Beatrice and Benedick don’t “see” their word jousts as a form of courting behavior until their friends point it out. Claudio is tricked by Don John into believing something that isn’t true.

Director Ron Daniels has reset the piece in a 19th-century country estate, nicely indicated on Ralph Funicello’s festival set by a handsome and decorative glassed-in wrought iron-look fence.

Deirdre Clancy’s costumes run from sewing-circle simplicity to “Nutcracker”-look military uniforms (the guys have just returned from an unspecified war) to pretty ball gowns.

Roberts’ portrayal of Benedick is a wondrous example of a strutting peacock with an oversized ego just waiting for Cupid’s arrow. Likewise, Hatzis’ Beatrice has a steely-eyed stare to match her hard-as-nails superiority complex. But the mere suggestion to either that love is in the air is enough to make fawning teenagers of both. It’s great fun to watch both.

Though it’s Beatrice and Benedick most will come to see (and with good reason), I’d like to put in a word for my favorite new discovery, Kevin Alan Daniels, here playing the tongue-tied Claudio, but just as fine as Ferdinand in “The Tempest.” Daniels has presence, timing and fine acting chops, and I hope to see him again on local stages.

Also contributing to the comedy are Dogberry (John Cariani), the malaprop-prone constable, and his henchmen Verges (Charles Janasz) and Sexton (Anthony Cochrane), who by blind luck manage to arrest Don John and his conspirators Borachio (Michael Stewart Allen) and Conrade (Jonathan Spivey) for their nefarious deed.

“Much Ado About Nothing” is described as a comedy, and funny it certainly is. But Daniels gives us a more complete picture, both of these characters and of human nature as a whole.

For my money, “Much Ado” is the best production of this year’s Festival.

The details

“Much Ado About Nothing” plays in rotation with “Amadeus” and “The Tempest” through Sept. 25 at the Lowell Davies Festival Stage, The Old Globe, as part of the Shakespeare Festival.

For tickets call (619) 234-5623 or visit HERE.

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