MADISON, NJ - Yes, it may be a lot about nothing but, being William Shakespeare, it still has plenty to say about human relationships, misplaced love, suspicion and jealousy.
The laughs come fast and furious during the tight, entertaining Act I. This production, directed by Scott Wentworth, is set around he time of World War II. There are holiday elements, too, in this tribute to Shakespeare Theatre’s final production for the 2014 season. It’s always (well, usually) refreshing to see these 16th century plays in modern dress with contemporary perspectives.
In this play, a lonely soldier is peeling potatoes at a camp far away from home. “White Christmas” is playing softly in the background. Then the stage explodes with actors coming on, celebrating the Christmas season back in the safety of the USA.
The plot is a slippery slope between Beatrice and Benedick who spar and, eventually fall in love. But that’s only because others are plotting, informing each separately that the other is smitten. Marion Adler is the fiery, opinionated Beatrice, who has little use for Benedick. He is a confirmed bachelor, resisting marriage at all costs. But when he overhears (accidently on purpose) that Beatrice is attracted to him, he immediately desires her. Scott Wentworth not only directed the play, but appears as Benedick with his real life wife, Adler. He shifts like lightening from a somewhat dour attitude to flirtatious lover. Adler captures the strong willed Beatrice perfectly. John Hickok is suitably smooth as Don Pedro, one of the calculating ‘friends.’
But the almost tragic scenario in the story is between Claudio and Hero. Charles Pasternak and Rachel Fox are obviously in love, but just before their wedding, Claudio is told that she has been unfaithful to him. He calls off the wedding at the altar and that disrupts and disturbs everyone. Her father, Leonato, in a powerful performance by Raphael Nash Thompson, is horrified by this turn of events.
Fortunately, Jeffrey M. Bender as Dogberry appears to lighten the scene with his fabulous comic timing and mobile expressions. He and Conan McCarty as Verges are there to recruit soldiers or arrest them. Who knows? At any rate, they somehow help unravel the mystery of who is at the heart of the untruths about Hero.
As with most of Shakespeare’s comedies, ‘all’s well that ends well.’ The happy couples are re-united, but, in a fitting ending, Benedick is once again peeling potatoes at the camp base while “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” plays longingly on the radio.
Act II is longer than Act I and does tend to drag after awhile. Nevertheless, the overall production is fast, smart and seamlessly presented. Candida Nichols’s costumes and hair styles perfectly capture that 19540’s feel. Michael Ganio’s scenic design is mostly bare bones, with just a hint of an elegant drawing room and Peter West’s lighting does the rest in terms of shifting moods.
“Much Ado About Nothing” continues at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey through Dec. 28. The theatre is located on the campus of Drew University in Madison. For tickets, call (973) 408-5600 or visit shakespeareNJ.org.
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