MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING in a charming modern concept version

Benedict (David Kelly) is disguised but Beatrice (Robynn Rodriguez) knows who he is - -and lets him know. Photo by David Cooper.

OREGON SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL (OSF); P.O. Box 158, 15 South Pioneer Street, Ashland, OR 97520. 541-482-2111, 541-482-0446 fax, 541-482-4331 box office;

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING: By William Shakespeare. Directed by Kate Buckley on the Elizabethan Stage.

In the past year, there have been three concept productions of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing here in the Bay Area. All of them have stressed the humorous elements avoiding the darkness of Don John’s dastardly deed. The 6th Street production was titled In the Mood setting the story in post WWII Sicily with the soldiers arriving for R&R at the Sicilian Villa of Leonata, father to Hero and uncle to Beatrice, using 40s songs/dances and physical shtick to enliven the play.

Director Kate Buckley has similar conceptual ideas setting the play in 1945 with the resistance fighters returning home after successfully defeating the Fascists. Both productions utilize attractive authentic 40s costumes ( Nan Cibula-Jenkins) and use music (Sarah Pickett) to complete the illusion.

It is a double love-story with much of the “ado” about deceptions. It starts with Don Pedro's (Peter Macon) courting of Hero (Sarah Rutan) on behalf of Claudio(Juan Rivera LeBron) and, of course, Beatrice's (Robynn Rodriguez) and Benedick's (David Kelly) phony, war of the sexes, as their friends' plot to have each "accidentally" learn of the other's love. Finally, Don John's (Christopher Michael Rivera) slander that Hero has betrayed Claudio leading to Friar Francis' (Tim Blough)) white lie that Hero is dead.

While doing background research about the play I came across a notation that in Shakespeare’s time “nothing” (spelled noting) was slang for eavesdropping with a sexual connotation. The eavesdropping scenes provide much of the rampant humor with special mention of David Kelly’s Benedick secreting himself in a water through for what seems like an inordinate time finally arising soaking wet, after his friends stop their confabulations, with a long spurt of water from his mouth. Kelly is a comic delight but he must share his praise with Rodriguez’s Beatrice that matches his wit line for line in their verbal battle of the sexes as both deny love and shun marriage. They are perfect foils for each other, not allowing either of their characters to get the upper hand even in the end when they are to marry.

Beautiful Sarah Rutan makes a perfect virginal Hero and it is no wonder that Claudio falls in love at first glance. LeBron’s small frame and expressive boyish face is no less attractive and they look as if the match was made in heaven. Evil Don John, brother to Don Pedro, pays Borachio (Todd Bjurstrom) to arrange a charade proving that Hero is unfaithful on her wedding night with Don Pedro and Claudio as witnesses.

Enter one of Shakespeare’s most lovable jesters in the body of Dogberry (Tony DeBruno) with mouthful unintelligible malapropisms as he leads his motley band apprehending the evil doers thus bringing truth to light. Hero is “resurrected” from the false death devised by Friar Francis and a wedding ensues. Moreover, Benedick silences Beatrice’s verbiage with a kiss as the play ends.

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