Friday, Jun 23, 2017

Much Ado About Nothing (2009)

Photo by Jenny Graham

Photo by David Cooper

This year’s production of Much Ado About Nothing in the Elizabethan is a sure-fire crowd pleaser. Primary thanks goes to the playwright (an up and comer by the name of W. Shakespeare) in this, one of his most accessible and easy-to-enjoy works. The Company of OSF, however, gives us a surprisingly uneven rendering that might have caused serious grief for a less-bulletproof text. Mustache-twirling, constant yelling… Hey, they can’t all be the best of the season, right?

I don’t mean to sound like a sourpuss; there’s a lot to like about this production. Scenic Designer Todd Rosenthal provides us with one of the more substantial sets I recall seeing on the Elizabethan’s stage; no imagining a window with your mind’s eye, the beautiful courtyard of an Italian villa is fully on display. The costumes by Nan Cibula-Jenkins (just post-WWII) are both appropriate and attractive. Many of the performances are satisfying, particularly Sarah Rutan as Hero, that bearer of abuse that always makes this play teeter on the brink (the abuse, not Hero). That’s two years in a row now that Ms. Rutan (last year’s Desdemona in Othello) has brought a compassionate, intelligent take to a role that can be tricksome to pull off for an audience with modern sensibilities. And as can happen in Much Ado, a gifted actor such as Tony DeBruno threatens to steal the show as Dogberry.

So what’s my beef? Sadly, it’s the presumptive stars of the show – David Kelly as Benedick and Robynn Rodriguez as Beatrice. Mr. Kelly isn’t bad; the comedy does well by him (he’s also a delight in this year’s The Servant of Two Masters) and he’s got the signature laugh of the night (and maybe the entire season). I won’t ruin it for you, but the night I saw the show it came to a halt for a full minute, no line utterable over the roars of laughter from the audience. However, he gives a fairly sad-sack read on a character who is portrayed, at least in the opinions given of him by others, as a competent soldier and dutiful man, albeit one with a sharp tongue. Ms. Rodriguez, however… I still don’t know the word for this, but there are some actors who are able to project in the Elizbethan while still offering a range of mood and inflection in their voice, and some who are not. Ms. Rodriguez, it seems, is not – she is forced to spend the evening straining to fill the bowl. (At least she does. I recall one longtime Company member who simply never learned the trick, and I never understood why she was cast in an outdoor production.) A seasoned veteran of the Festival, I cast no aspersions on her skill as an actor in general, but I found her to be a supreme distraction here – not good when you are one of the foci of the evening’s festivities.

Much Ado About Nothing is, at its heart, a trifle of fun (with an uncomfortable crunchy bit in the middle when Hero is cast down) and the OSF production is certainly a solid take. All told. though, if you’re a regular attendee of such things I doubt it will be recalled as one of  your favorite productions.