By John Farrell
It’s a triumph, a superb, over-the-top, triumph.
Much Ado About Nothing, at the Long Beach Playhouse’s Mainstage Theater, deserves every critical accolade it gets, and more. It is lively from start to finish, lovely to look at, with superb costumes and a great design, and the fun of its characters’ over-the-top, coruscating wit is enhanced with more laugh-out-loud moments than you can count. Director Sean F. Gray has imagined a brilliant and hilarious production and has all of his large cast on his side. From the stars to the minor roles everyone comes together to make this the best play by Shakespeare you are likely to see for some time, and a play by Shakespeare you will want to see more than once.
Much Ado About Nothing tells the story of Beatrice and Benedick, a man and a woman who have given up on marriage. The two, Kate Woodruff (Beatrice) and Nicholas Thurkettle, are just the right age for these two: not too young to have no experience of love, not so old that love has passed them by. They have known each other for years and engage in witty banter, not realizing how they feel about each other. Woodruff is lovely, alluring and adult, with marcelled blonde hair and enough changes of clothes to make her a clothes horse. Thurkettle is dashing in his naval uniform and able to handle every remark she makes with a witty report.
That is, until their friends arrange for each to overhear how much in love the other is. Then they change from opponents to a love-struck couple.
There is another couple to consider: they are very young and also marcelled Hero (Danice Allynn) daughter of Leonato and Claudio (Evan Battle), who falls immediately in love with her. Their love is approved by Leonato (the doughty Bob Fetes) and by Don Pedro (the always delightful Cort Huckabone). But true loves course is temporarily less than smooth because of Don Juan’s plotting. Lee Samuel Tanng is Don John, and his plot involves a double identity and the evil help of Borachio (Patrick Peterson).
Not to worry, though, because Dogberry is on duty. He is the chief of the watch and one of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters. Played by Dean Figone, dressed as Broderick Crawford from Highway Patrol, Figone is a delight, with almost every word a pun or a mispronunciation. His assistant, Verges (Alexander Shewchuk), also dressed in suit and fedora, makes up the other half of the team.
There is so much fun going on that it is hard to mention everything. The men in uniform salute when they are supposed to shake hands and Claudio salutes when they want to shake hands. Beatrice and Benedick, each in their own turn, hide in the aisles between the seats as they hear of the other’s love, and when they do come on stage, hiding behind the scenery, Beatrice gets water poured on her head.
Gray sets the action in the seaside palace of Claudio, a beautiful place designed by Greg Fritsche to look like a very 1920s home. The costumes are not only perfect. They are a fashion show in themselves designed by Donna Fritsche. Danny Driskill’s lighting is charming and the sound track by Andrew Vonderschmitt sets the proper, elegant mood. The cast dances a tango at one point in the action and they do it well.
This is Shakespeare’s comedy as it should be performed: full of laughs and full of poetry. It is a tribute to Gray’s fine direction and his delightful cast. Go see it and enjoy!
Tickets are $24. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 30.