Off-Broadway Theater Review: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (The Public Theater in Central Park)

by Paulanne Simmons on June 16, 2014

in Theater-New York

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MUCH ADO ABOUT SOMETHING YOU WANT TO SEE

If one were only to see Shakespeare as produced by The Public Theater at the Delacorte Theater, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that all of the Bard’s plays take place in bucolic settings. This is due to the brilliantly inventive way that The Public’s designers incorporate the greenery of Central Park into the staging—and this season of Free Shakespeare in the Park’s first production is no exception.

"Much Ado About Nothing" at The Public Theater/Delacorte Theater

One of Shakespeare’s mid-career plays, Much Ado About Nothing comes after The Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, before he turned to more serious themes with his great tragedies. There is little to darken the consistent mirth of this accessible comedy, which is fairly easy to follow. It hinges on two schemes. One is to convince Beatrice and Benedick they are in love. The other is two prevent the marriage of Hero and Claudio. All this occurs when Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, on his way home with his army, stops at the home of his friend, Leonato, the governor of Messina.

"Much Ado About Nothing" at The Public Theater/Delacorte Theater

Leonato (John Glover) lives with his niece, Beatrice (Lily Rabe) and his daughter, Hero (Ismenia Mendes). Claudio (Jack Cutmore-Scott), one of Don Pedro’s soldiers, immediately falls in love with Hero and seeks to marry her. Benedick (Hamish Linklater), another of Don Pedro’s soldiers, sees Beatrice and remembers their long-standing antipathy.

"Much Ado About Nothing" at The Public Theater/Delacorte Theater

Claudio, Leonato, and Don Pedro (Brian Stokes Mitchell), together with Hero and her governess Ursula (Kathryn Meisle) and waiting-gentlewoman Margaret (Zoë Winters), concoct a plan to bring Benedick and Beatrice together. In the meantime, Don Pedro’s bastard brother, Don John (Pedro Pascal), and Don Pedro’s servant, Borachio (Eric Sheffer Stevens), contrive to convince Claudio that Hero has been false.

"Much Ado About Nothing" at The Public Theater/Delacorte Theater

The sharp-tongued Beatrice and her worthy sparring partner Benedick have innocent and naïve counterparts in the pure Hero and the easily duped Claudio. The two couples may be the heart of the play, but an excellent supporting cast gives the comedy some of its darker, more affecting, and most delightfully ridiculous moments. Pascal gives us a deliciously evil Don Juan, ably assisted by Stevens as Borachio. Glover is palpably suffering as the grieving father, and John Pankow is an estimable clown as Dogberry, the constable of the watch, who despite his bungling stupidity manages to save the day.

"Much Ado About Nothing" at The Public Theater/Delacorte Theater

In director Jack O’Brien’s production (making his Delacorte debut), John Lee Beatty’s set turns the stage and its surroundings into the villa and gardens of a wealthy Italian gentleman at the turn of the century. The dress is Edwardian, complete with morning coats, waistcoats, and elegantly trimmed uniforms from costume designer Jane Greenwood.

"Much Ado About Nothing" at The Public Theater/Delacorte Theater

But technical elements are just the beginning of the magic. This show belongs to Linklater and Rabe, who not only manage to convey love and scorn in equal measure but also retain our esteem and respect through all their foolishness. Their chemistry is undeniable. Watching them perform their verbal gymnastics, one cannot help but note how totally modern they seem. This is a tribute both to both Shakespeare and this excellent production that keeps him alive.

"Much Ado About Nothing" at The Public Theater/Delacorte Theaterphotos by Joan Marcus

Much Ado About Nothing
The Public Theater
Delacorte Theater in Central Park
scheduled to end on July 6, 2014
free tickets are distributed, two per person,
at the Delacorte beginning 12:00 pm
on the day of performance
for more info, visit www.publictheater.org

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