Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Much Ado About Nothing"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


"MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING"

by William Shakespeare
directed by Steven Maler

Don Pedro, prince of Arragon … Sean McGuirk
Don John, his bastard brother … James Noel Hoban
Claudio, a young lord of Florence … Kaolin Bass
Benedick, a young lord of Padua … Jonno Roberts
Leonato, governor of Messina … Paul Farwell
Antonio, his brother … Jeff Gill
Balthasar, attendant on Don Pedro … Robert Doris
Conrade, follower of Don John … John Porell
Borachio, follower of Don John … Ricardo Engerman
Friar Francis … Vincent Siders
Dogberry, a constable … Bobbie Steinbach
Verges, a headborough … Ray McDavitt
A Sexton … Joshua Rollins
A Boy … Paul Andersen

Hero, daughter to Leonato … Amelia Nickles
Beatrice, niece to Leonato … Georgia Hatzis
Margaret, gentlewoman attending on Hero … Carolina DeLima
Ursula, gentlewoman attending on Hero … Jacqui Parker*

First Messenger … Stephen Squibb
Second Messenger … Danielle Levanas
Third Messenger … John Russell

First Watch … Chris Butterfield
Second Watch … Matthew Dickson
Third Watch … Josh Segovia

Accordion Player … Julia Benn
Guitar Player … Matt Citron
Mandolin Player … Ian Conway
Drum Player … Joshua Rollins
Tuba Player … Josh Segovia
Trombone Player … Seth Hamlin

Apprentice Company:

Paul Anderson; Chris Butterfield; Matt Citron
Matthew Dickson; Elisa Gonzales; Margaret Katch
Danielle Levanas; Lissa Romaine; John Russell
Josh Segovia; Stephen Squibb; Rydia Vielehr

* on the evening I attended, the role of Ursula was played by Rydia Vielehr

By George, he’s (almost) got it! “He” is producer/director Steven Maler; “it” is Mr. Maler’s annual outdoor production for the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company. ‘Tis MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, this time around, that merry comedy featuring Beatrice and Benedict, those thrust-and-parry lovers, and Mr. Maler’s production works, it works; oh, how it works: there are no imported “name” actors; no gimmickry; no mise-en-scène inspired by headline topics --- instead, Scott Bradley has designed a dimensional, timeless ruin of a villa that allows the non-stop action to flow at a bustling pace; indeed, Mr. Bradley may have provided the guidelines for Mr. Maler: since the villa remains as bare as a bone save for a brief string of lanterns, the director had little choice but to concentrate on his players, with happy results (he may become an actor’s director, yet): as the performance unfolded, my astonishment gave way to pleasure at the sight of an ensemble securely embedded in the verse, creating worlds with words, nothing but words, as good Shakespeareans are meant to do.

Mind you: I wrote Mr. Maler has (ALMOST) got it; he has yet to pump humanity into his productions (Shakespeare, even at his darkest, still hosts a warm heart in his breast): his current production has plenty of sparkle but by stressing the comedy’s slapstick, Mr. Maler causes its warmth to soon vanish into the night --- apart from Don Pedro’s touching proposal to and rejection by Beatrice, there is little romance or tenderness, here --- and Mr. Maler succumbs to two annoying traditions: Beatrice and Benedict flop and scurry, once again, all over the stage during the eavesdropping scenes (shall they ever remain in one place, allowing the audience to see their mutual disbelief dissolve to wonder, then turn to delight?) and the watchmen are played as an idiot trio rather than as simple, not simple-minded, peasants. Nor is Mr. Maler balanced in his orchestration: his John the Bastard is a perfect storybook villain, blessedly psychosis-free; Antonio, on the other hand, becomes a veritable Lear in his outburst rather than a comically enraged old man; Mr. Maler gives his Beatrice and Benedick his full attention --- no doubt, to make stars of his leads --- but slights his Claudio and Hero who are pretty to look at, pretty to listen to, but neutral (they, not Bea & Ben, must run with the plot, after all) --- at least Mr. Maler has set his production in times modern enough for American palates yet distant enough where a young woman’s virginity was guarded, cherished and respected.

If Mr. Bradley has set the tone for the production, then Jonno Roberts (Benedick) sets the tone for the performance, his mercurial bachelor being as frisky as a puppy freed from its leash, delightedly chasing after Shakespeare’s words, catching them, and dropping them at our feet, tail wagging; his fellow players cannot help being nimble, themselves, with Mr. Roberts playfully nipping at their portrayals (what a golden Mercutio he would make!). His declamation, though, needs to be tempered, what with all its thunder and brass punctuated by falsetto crackings followed by sudden monotones --- the effect is more cleverness than characterization; Mr. Roberts nevertheless keeps things spinning whenever he appears though he grinds to a near-halt when playing opposite Georgia Hatzis, his on- (and off-) stage partner; a gloomy, rather than a merry hour was this Beatrice’s at birth. Ms. Hatzis was stunning, especially in close-ups, in A.R.T.’s drive-in production of PERICLES; here, she labors uphill at being a comedienne (Carolina DeLima, in the small role of Margaret, could give Ms. Hatzis lessons in how to be tossing-haired yet laughing-hearted) and she comes up with more of a Kate, instead, hands ever on hips (notice how Mr. Roberts turns Petruchio-like when he nears her) --- only in her rejection of the Prince does Ms. Hatzis briefly thaw; only in her and Benedick’s mutual love-confessions does she briefly bubble (her “Kill Claudio!” line fails to get a laugh, soon afterwards); Mr. Maler may be partly to blame as many a director assumes that if a Shakespearean woman is intelligent she must therefore vent all of her lines and vent Ms. Hatzis does; she may have hardened since last I saw her but remains stunning --- a mortal, now, instead of a goddess.

Sean McGuirk (Don Pedro), James Noel Hoban (Don John) and Jeff Gill (Antonio) make for handsome, mature company, especially Mr. McGuirk, so colorless as the closeted lead in last year’s MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE but now transformed into a rather dashing fox, and Paul Farwell (Leonato) is fast becoming a character actor to be cherished, though he, too, turns choleric after Hero’s mortification. Ricardo Engerman (Borachio) continues to filter everything he says and does through the Cool and the Hip, but Vincent Siders is oddly fascinating as a Caribbean-accented (?) Friar Francis and gives rise to thoughts of him as a credible Othello, in time. In his one cutting-edge touch, Mr. Maler has cast Bobbie Steinbach, another cherishable, as Dogberry then sent her out with a Kaiser helmet, a riding crop and shocking-pink undergarments beneath her skirts --- the neighborhood madwoman rather than the muddle-minded keeper of the peace; it is to Ms. Steinbach’s artistry that she gathers laughs on shtick, alone; this past May she excerpted a magnificent Volumnia at the benefit for the Actors Shakespeare Project --- the makings of an oil portrait to be hung with pride in the Bard’s gallery as well as her own; may Ms. Steinbach be allowed to complete it.

My scribbles began three summers ago with one of Mr. Maler’s productions and I am pleased to see my fourth year begin on such an encouraging note, CSC-wise --- I applaud Mr. Maler for his accomplishment (he has grown, this past year) and look forward to next summer’s offering (hopefully, with as many of his current cast members as possible); Mr. Maler has raised his own standards, himself, and I’ll not accept anything less.

"Much Ado About Nothing" (10 July -1 August)
COMMONWEALTH SHAKESPEARE COMPANY
Parkman Bandstand, Boston Commons, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 532-1212

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