It is so rewarding, you might agree, to go to the theater for an evening of classical, traditional Shakespeare, and not once tilt your head at the verbal frustration that greets you.
More often than I’d like to admit, the Bard confuses me. I can admit that (as someone who writes about him from time to time) since I know I’m not the only one.
Even the comedies, which routinely rev up their goofy hijinks, their silly antics, their mistaken identities (and, hold onto your hats, their genders), can seem overindulgent, too willing to explain, and thus ruin the punch line. Vocabulary discussing itself; it’s laborious.
But not this smart production of “Much Ado About Nothing” on the Hill in Delaware Park, directed by the Kyle LoConti. She imbues this ensemble’s comings and goings with a lightness that seems to uncomplicate all of Shakespeare’s usual trappings. As if it caught a breeze off nearby Hoyt Lake, and paid a quick two-hour stop on stage to catch its breath. (No kidding, the running time is a winner. You should be out of there around 10 p.m. on a good night.)
This is one of Shakespeare’s seminal romantic comedies, with many popular adaptations and interpretations to its credit. Like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” perhaps his most-often performed romance, this involves the complicated plotting of two couples as they learn to accept the price of true love, and the occasionally difficult reality of relationships.
It exposes the audacity of men in their perceptions of women, and the comeuppance that unexpectedly awaits them when they are revealed to be too brute for their match. Girl power is in full force here, worry not.
What makes “Much Ado About Nothing” so intriguing is its temporary dalliance in true drama, toward the top of the second part. It turns so quickly from silly to serious, a reminder of the value Shakespeare puts on love, of all the weight that must anchor all the lightness.
The ensemble does a fine job weaving these webby tropes. With LoConti’s touch, they temper their most comedic and dramatic moments with an evenness that plays naturally, sarcastically in a modern way – almost realistically. They project from the open-air stage (aided by microphones) as you might expect, but they also speak with inside voices from time to time, loudly enough to hear you but quietly enough to make you lean in.
You’ll notice this at first from the actor who plays Leonato, who goes by Fisher; he has a wonderful hand-touch with his words, and an expansive range when necessary. Fisher paints a wonderful texture on his scenes.
Kate LoConti’s Beatrice, a sparring wit of equal match to Todd Benzin’s Benedick, is a breath of fresh air, the glue to this already sealed production. LoConti is a natural with intense rhythms and enmeshed textures, but brings an especially Katharine Hepburn-like tenacity to her Beatrice. Benzin’s hands-in-the-air frustration is well played and well earned.
Chris Hatch, as military man Don Pedro, and Gregory Gjurich, as the bumbling fool Dogberry, play big comedy with heaps of style. They’re always fun to watch.
And Melinda Capeles, who has crashed waves on local stages of late, makes a confident debut with the company as Hero, a role that could easily be overshadowed but stands out among the stars here.
With thorough performances like these, fully fleshed out and dialed back just like so, and a watchful directorial touch that offers a metronomelike steadiness and ease, this is time well spent with the Bard. It's accessible for those who need it to be, and engrossing for those who need no training wheels. With all sincerity: thanks for “Nothing.”
“Much Ado About Nothing”
4 stars (out of 4 stars)
Shakespeare in Delaware Park, 199 Lincoln Parkway, behind the Rose Garden. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays through Aug. 19 (weather permitting). Free with suggested donation.