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

Spiritual Hamlet

hamlet with ghost
Grantham Coleman as Hamlet and Michael Genet as The Ghost in Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, directed by Barry Edelstein, running Aug. 6 – Sept. 22, 2017. Photo by Jim Cox.

A giant gold suit of armor guards The Old Globe’s stage in a spiritual Hamlet.

The most compelling scene is between Hamlet and his father as The Ghost. Michael Genet strides through the mist on a golden platform in an ether, LED-lit suit of armor toward Grantham Coleman as Hamlet. In slow motion, the stairs and landing spin around as a ghostly Genet chases a shocked Coleman.

There isn’t a lot of time to get to this pivotal moment. The play in full-length is four hours. The Old Globe has cut it to a well-paced three hours. And yet Genet and Coleman are captivating. The father and son moment brings the audience closer to God.

When Genet as the father says he has been killed and attacked by a snake in the garden a Biblical reference comes to mind. In this case, the snake is the uncle, King Claudius, played by Cornell Womack. The father represents God the Father. Genet then says his bride, the seeming-virtuous Queen, has been taken from him. Another Biblical reference comes to mind, as God’s people are the unfaithful Bride. The Father is God, Hamlet is Christ, the Bride is God’s people, and the murderous, usurping king is the serpent. Hamlet must save the Bride or free her from Evil.

Quite possibly Shakespeare was inspired by pre-Christian history of Danish Prince Horvendile married to Queen Geruth, who had a son named Hamlet. Prince Horvendile was murdered by his brother Fengon. The true story is more gruesome and detailed than the play. Shakespeare then intertwined the Danish royals’ story with a bent on Biblical stories.

The Tudor costumes are inspired by Queen Elizabeth I and her ruff collars. The stunning Opal Alladin as Queen Gertrude wears the opulent gowns well. An anonymous donor sponsors costume designer Cait O’Connor. The costumes are the first enticement to the show.

Scenic Designer, Tim Mackabee, creates a world of lavish industrialism. It’s like he brings a little bit of Broadway with him. He uses metal pipes, elbows, and maybe particleboard to create two stories of stairs, rails, and walls. By spray-painting them gold, the props complement the over-the-top costumes.

hamlet sword fight
Jonny Orsini as Laertes duels Grantham Coleman as Hamlet. Cornell Womack as King Claudius and Opal Alladin as Queen Gertrude sit surrounded by cast in background. Photo by Jim Cox.

Director Barry Edelstein’s Hamlet is the best version you’ll find in SoCal keeping true to a more self-preserving Hamlet rather than a madman.

Balboa Park is getting busier every year. I would suggest eating at the 2014 Zagat awarded and one of four top Japanese restaurants in San Diego, Azuki Sushi. The sushi is the moistest I’ve tasted. The miso soup is salty with generous amounts of seaweed and tofu. The Shiitake roll is marked as vegetarian with a piece of shitake on top treated like bacon and tender asparagus in the middle. The avocado and cucumber roll is narrow the way it should be. Make a reservation for this seemingly hole-in-the-wall.

Park free on the street or in the five dollar parking lots near the restaurant then walk on Laurel Street to The Old Globe in Balboa Park. Cross Sixth Street and saunter the Cabrillo Bridge. You might be able to wear heels since this is a flat route. The Old Globe does offer valet parking for $14. But if you don’t want to deal with traffic in the park then the walk along the bridge is enjoyable. It’s been hot and humid this week. (The rest of the summer has been the coolest we’ve had in SoCal.) Since this is San Diego I did see a woman dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. I wouldn’t go that far, but do dress comfortably.

(Welcome Texas. We are seeing lots of Texas license plates due to the flooding there.)

Hamlet by William Shakespeare directed by Barry Edelstein runs August 6 – September 22, 2017 at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre.

The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego, CA 92101. Box Office (619) 234-5623.

Copyright 2017