BWW Reviews: Chemistry Drives Theatricum Botanicum's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
What a wonder is love in the hands of a writer like Shakespeare. Through comedy, tragedy, sonnet and poem, the way he captures lovers and their essence is pure magic. In MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, bringing that magic to life depends largely on its leading man and lady, and when a company gets the pairing right, the experience is so thoroughly engaging you never want it to end.
That's the case with Theatricum Botanicum's current production, directed by Ellen Geer and Christopher W. Jones, who could not have cast two actors with more chemistry, or a better understanding of Beatrice and Benedick, than Susan Angelo and Robertson Dean.
Although each professes to hate the other, the subtext reveals another story; one in which the wanting of love still exists. But romance is complicated for a sadder but wiser (and older) girl like Beatrice who covers her vulnerability with putdowns and puns at a pace feverish enough to make any man's head spin. Angelo is luminous in the role, light on her feet, and feisty to a fault.
For a soldier like Benedick, who seems secretly befuddled by the intricacies of a woman's mind, the solution is to swear off love altogether and to surround himself with a wall of words as a shield. Ever the gentleman but stubborn in his beliefs, Dean clings to his defense with such conviction that often the most fun is in watching him process everything he hears. It is an absolutely charming, hilariously funny performance.
While their friends resort to some good-natured trickery to couple them once and for all, another kind of deception breaks up Claudio (headstrong Colin Simon) and Beatrice's cousin Hero (Jackie Kiikvee), who are to be married. Benedick takes up Hero's cause on behalf of Beatrice and a third deception is planned to right all the confusion.
Don John the bastard, played by Mark Lewis, is usually dismissed as simply evil in this play but Lewis's take on the character is much more interesting. Rather than making him a run-of-the-mill villain, he plays him as a pissed-off bad boy easily swayed by his much more evil companion, Borachio (Seta Alexander). With their roles now shaded with ambiguity, it is Borachio who becomes the instigator of the plot to destroy Hero's honor and Don John who follows his lead. Both men make simple but exciting choices about the oily nature of their relationship in their short time on stage.
There are also strong performances by Franc Ross as Hero's distraught father Leonato, Tim Halligan as the malaprop-prone Dogberry, and Jeff Wiesen as the noble Don Pedro.
Dancing, music, and even a comedy bit with a rope swing add life to the revelry. The cast is beautifully attired in Val Miller's costumes of the Italian Renaissance. White gowns for the women and blue military coats for the men are focal points of a color scheme that keeps the energy light and fresh. Surrounded by nature on the outdoor stage, the ensemble creates a vivid impression at the top of the play with soldiers descending through the audience and ladies filling the stage in welcome.
I do love nothing in the world so well as seeing Shakespeare under the evening sky, and from beginning to end this MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is an enchanting battle of wits full of mirth and laughter.
The outdoor amphitheater at Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum is terraced into the hillside of the rustic canyon. Audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Snacks are available at the Hamlet Hut, and picnickers are welcome before and after the performance.
For more Los Angeles Shakespeare News follow @ShakespeareinLA on Twitter.
Pictured above: Susan Angelo as Beatrice and Robertson Dean as Benedick.
Photo credit: Ian Flanders