Let's face it, watching a play by Shakespeare can be a challenge - who talks like that anymore?
But if you're looking for one of his plays that offers easy access to the audience, that brings big laughs and an easy-to-follow story, then you should go see the excellent production of Much Ado About Nothing, which ARTS is presenting this weekend at the Renaissance Theatre (the old Huntington High School) at 900 8th Street.
It's easily one of the (if not THE) funniest shows crafted by Shakespeare. It follows the tangled story of love for two different couples - the boisterious Benedick, an avowed bachelor and Beatrice, the contrary and sharp-tongued bachelorette who has no use for men; and Claudio, the love-struck young man who has fallen for the beautiful Hero - and she's crazy about him, too.
Of course, the path of true love doesn't always run smooth, so the couple in love find their wedding disrupted by an enemy's evil scheme, while the couple not in love are drawn together by a kind-hearted scheme by true friends.
What follows is a comedy of... well, not errors, but wrongs to right and lovers to be set right. (Or words to that effect.)
The play has been cleverly moved to a more modern setting by director Mike Murdock. It's set in Las Vegas in the 1960s in Leonato's Casino. The costumes and sets are a wonderful change-up for the classic story, all brought to life with great skill and craft, and the characters translate perfectly to the new setting, which includs piano performances and several wonderful dance numbers with Vegas showgirls, courtesy of choreographer Coni Anthony
But the real stars of the show, of course, are the actors:
- Len Trent (Benedick) has shown great skill at playing intense characters in past shows, but here he shows his range and absolutely kills with laughs. His comic eavesdropping scene alone is worth the price of admission.
- Joanna Berner (Beatrice) also gets to steal some very funny scenes in her own attempts to uncover a "secret" love interest. A gifted actress, she gets to show her comic chops throughout (not to mention some dance moves), and the results are delightful.
- Eric Wilson (Claudio) is the love-smitten young man who has to play it straight, but shows his emotional range in his outrage over charges against his beloved, and his shock at a surprising twist. He's always spot-on and charming.
- Emma Imes (Hero) doesn't get to do much more than be very sweet and also outraged, but she does it so well. And she does get a death scene - well, sort of...
- Stephen Vance (Don Pedro) and Bill Stambaugh (Leonato) get to ooze charm and gravitas as the top dogs in Vegas, and they're obviously having a lot of fun doing it.
- Dylan Clark (Dogberry), Luke Matlock (Verges), Jonathan Armstrong (Hugh Oatcake) and Andrew Surber (George Seacoat) are a scream as security agents who - quite inadvertantly, and despite their best efforts - play a key role in revealing the evil plot against the lovers. They're a pure delight.
- Andrew Potter (Friar) also gets some big laughs with a different twist on the role - he plays it as an Elvis impersonator! What more do you need to know?
- Simon Woods (Don John) revels in his part as the wicked brother of Don Juan, and it's his machinations that move things along. Can we just agree that any show is better for the inclusion of Simon? He's wonderful in every part he plays, and this is no exception.
The entire cast does excellent work here, bringing life to a classic that - like all great works - is just as timeless and entertaining as ever.
You only have two chances left (Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.) to catch this excellent production, the third Shakespeare play in three years from ARTS - and so far, they're batting a thousand.
Face it, if you're a theatre fan at all, you owe it to yourself to see Much Ado About Nothing.