Much Ado About Talk

much ado dance
Sarah Topham as Beatrice, Michael Hayden as Benedick, Morgan Taylor as Hero, Carlos Angel-Barajas as Claudio and the company of Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare, directed by Kathleen Marshall, runs August 12 – September 16, 2018 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.

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

Copyright 2018 Melissa Crismon

Good Villain

Richard Thomas as Iago. Photo by Jim Cox.

What I find interesting about the play Othello is that Iago who isn’t the main character demands attention to the point of making himself the main character. Sometimes a story begins with thoughts of a main character or two and often the writer doesn’t set out to focus on this supporting character. It could be that Richard Thomas, John Boy from “The Waltons” plays Iago, but I don’t think so. It certainly helps. Shakespeare writes Iago in the first scene showing he’s a liar as Roderigo played by Jonny Orsini says Iago has access to his money. Iago denies it. The way Thomas discards a match in the air with no care of his surroundings shows us how despicable this Iago is. We know this guy is a villain, but he is likeable and entertaining.

What makes a likeable villain?

Thomas’ Iago has no redeeming qualities. He makes us laugh with the written word. There is one part that doesn’t take away from nor give to the play. It is a side of Iago we like. He’s playful and doesn’t believe he is doing wrong. He believes he is only helping the people do what they would have done anyway. In Cyprus as they are at war for a long time, the military men party with the local women. The live music halts then Thomas dances around singing the beat with a bottle of wine. He fills the cup of Cassio played by Noah Bean in hopes to cause a fight between him and Roderigo. This happens a few more times with Thomas giving a thrust of the hips at the end of his display with a “Pow!” He’s fun and despite his grotesque flaws we like him.

Kristen Connolly as Desdemona and Blair Underwood as Othello. Photo by Jim Cox.

Another part of the play that calls my attention is when Othello played by Blair Underwood has his wife Desdemona played by Kristen Connolly follow him to Cyprus. (Yes, this is the Blair Underwood from “Ironside” and “Sex and The City.”) It seems a bit strange that the women would be so close to their men in war time. I’m not a historian, but perhaps this was the way when the wars were long. Othello isn’t Shakespeare’s longest play, but I did expect the Globe’s production to be longer. Director Barry Edelstein did cut out some of the play, but it didn’t make a negative impact.

Original music composed by Curtis Moore sets the mood in the first scene as Thomas’ Iago walks in with the ensemble hitting sticks and pounding rods. We get a play and a concert with musicians Jonathan Hepfer and Ryan Nestor in the veranda of the stage. Sound effects are heard under Underwood’s monologue adding intensity.

Not only were there stars on stage, but stars in the audience. Melinda Clarke made an appearance with her beautiful red hair. She is unmistakable. I am a fan of hers in “The O.C.” Funny, Renaissance Man and I saw Ben McKenzie from “The O.C.” at the Globe’s Shakespeare Festival some years ago.

I visited The Old Globe gift shop and bought a few things. I love pencils. I should have seen the collecting of pencils as a sign that I should be a writer. The pencils are black with The Old Globe written in bronze with the insignia of the theatre. I also couldn’t resist a William Shakespeare Air Freshener in Shakespearmint.

Before the show Renaissance Man and I enjoyed the newly revamped Balboa Park in San Diego where The Old Globe finds its home. The bridge is now open and the parking by the art museum and turn-about is taken out so people can rent a surrey and ride around or walk without having to stop for a car. We ate at The Prado restaurant for the first time. It is festively decorated with painted dark walls and large windows to view the patio covered in hanging lights and red and purple umbrellas. Inside, art inspired by Dale Chihuly creates lighting as a lamp and an entrance piece. The food is good, but the service could be better. I prefer to have my food staggered rather than all of it in front of me getting cold. I saved room for the brownie at the Globe’s café which serves soup in a sourdough bowl. It’s another option for a light dinner close to the theatre.

Edelstein’s Othello has definite memorable parts that are evenly distributed. I will remember Thomas’ Iago dancing devilishly, sharing in the experience of Underwood’s Othello having a seizure and Connolly’s sad, drawn-out death with choking sounds that made me cry. Shivers.

Othello by William Shakespeare directed by Barry Edelstein runs from June 22 – July 27, 2014 at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. (This is an open-air theatre so bring a sweater and blanket.)

The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego, CA, 92101 Phone (619) 231-1941.