Three-time Tony Award winner and director Kathleen Marshall frolics through a post-war Italian Riviera playground at the Old Globe in Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. She’s the perfect hostess from the masque ball to a wedding that almost happens, and a celebration with a company dance.
In a bathing suit and fiery, tight-curled hair, Beatrice (Sarah Topham) enters with a confident stride through the French doors with Hero (Morgan Taylor) through the other. The lovable, sassy Beatrice makes it clear to her uncle (Leonato as René Thornton Jr.) she is not interested in love. She and Benedick (Michael Hayden) have a charming chemistry that everyone notices but them. Benedick is older than she is, which makes sense, since he swears he will die a bachelor.
Scenic design, by John Lee Beatty, lends itself as a comedic hideaway and complementary surrounding. The pink villa casts a cheery and romantic glow on the actors. Benedick squirms from the greenery then crawls across the floor as Leonato lies to Don Pedro (Michael Boatman) and Claudio (Carlos Angel-Barajas) that Beatrice will kill herself if Benedick doesn’t return her love. Then Hero and Ursula (Larica Schnell) do the same and gossip of Benedick’s love for Beatrice. Beatrice stands in the statue niche then slinks behind the ladies to the fountain. She lies down as the girls lounge and twirl their hands below the waterline causing Beatrice to flatten herself on the step. When headstrong Beatrice and confirmed bachelor Benedick are properly set up, Benedick does a dance on the balcony in and out of the bedroom while Beatrice dances on the patio and through the French doors.
The men open the French doors and pause for the audience to take in the masks. There is a collective sigh as everyone gets a tickle out of the 1980s song “Puttin’ on the Ritz” by Taco, chosen by music director Abigail Grace Allwein. (Allwein also plays the violin with guitarist James Michael McHale.) The men do a smooth dance with a bend of the knees. Director Marshall has also won the Astaire Award—ergo all the dancing. From having fun with dog and pig masks, costume designer Michael Krass, celebrates the feminine with all the dresses. Beatrice’s red dress with spaghetti straps hugs her slim body then gradually flares out to her feet. Hero changes from her flowy pantsuit to a pleated pink-lavender dress to a damask and lace, cream wedding dress.
But Claudio and Hero’s wedding is interrupted as more lies are woven by jealous Don John (Manoel Felciano), the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro. Claudio has come home after the war with approval from Don Pedro. Don John conspires with his bad boys Borachio (Eric Weiman) and Conrade (Yadira Correa) dressed in black of course. When Borachio stands in the window with Margaret (Nora Carroll) groping her and calling out Hero’s name for Claudio to see, I can’t help but giggle even though it is mean spirited. The other tertiary character, gravel-voiced Conrade, channels Joan Jett as he smokes, drinks wine from a bottle, and spreads his legs when he sits. Conrad always has a pissed off face and with the same expression, as a prisoner, is forced to shake a gourd in the last song.
Much Ado About Nothing is a delightful romantic comedy. I’ve never enjoyed listening to a couple bicker more.
The Old Globe • Lowell Davies Festival Theatre • 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego, CA, 92101 • August 12 – September 16, 2018 • (619) 234-5623