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BWW Reviews: City Theatre's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Features Strong Leads but a Few Flaws

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It's no secret that Shakespeare's plays are among the most challenging for actors and directors to tackle. The language is dense and the plot is often complex, making it difficult for modern audiences to connect with the play. While some productions easily rise to the occasion, there's something amiss in The City Theatre's current production of Much Ado About Nothing. While the two leads are delightful to watch, the rest of the production is fairly middle of the road. It certainly won't be among the worst production of Shakespeare that you're bound to see, but it won't be among the best either.

The beloved comedy involves two pairs of lovers. Benedick and Beatrice bicker and quarrel frequently, and while the underlying love between them is apparent to everyone else, Benedick and Beatrice don't see their affection for each other until tricked into addressing their true feelings. In contrast, Claudio and Hero's love is far more traditional and romantic in nature, but despite his love for Hero, Claudio is easily tricked into believing that she's been unfaithful.

As leading couple Benedick and Beatrice, Kevin Gates and Nikki Zook are both fantastic. Gates plays Benedick with an arrogant air about him, but on occasion, particularly when he first realizes Beatrice's loathing of him may actually be a thin mask of her affection, Gates allows Benedick's insecurities and neuroticisms to come out. Zook is equally strong as the witty and somewhat aloof Beatrice. She plays Beatrice as a confident, smart, independent young woman who can go toe to toe with the men around her. Whether or not Zook intends for Beatrice to be an early feminist is anyone's guess, but it's a fascinating idea that pays off. And when Gates and Zook get to share the stage (something that sadly only happens a handful of times during the show), watching them match wits is a treat. Their relationship is well defined and plays out in a charismatic and amusing way.

Sadly, the actors that share the stage with Gates and Zook don't perform at the same level. The two leads are surrounded by a few over-actors (face-pulling Toni Baum as Verges and the bombastic and loud Robert Deike as Dogberry), some that just go through the motions (Stephen Cook as Borachio and Rebecca Musser as Conrade), some that haven't completely learned their lines (the mumbling Tyler Haggard as Don Pedro), and others who simply haven't found their characters yet.

Like the acting, the design work has some successes and some flaws. The set by Andy Berkovsky is charming and quaint. With its vine covered columns and archways, the set quickly places us in Messina, Italy. The costumes by Liegh Hedegus and Bridget Farias are less effective, mostly due to the numerous flaws in construction. In an intimate space like The City Theatre, the audience can see every little detail, and frayed edges, safety pins, uneven hemlines, and blue jeans worn underneath costumes detract from the opulence of the costumes and distracts from the story.

The direction, also by Bridget Farias, has its problems as well. Though the direction is a vast improvement from Farias's production of She Stoops to Conquer from last year, there are still a few missed opportunities. Though the staging is effective, the character and plot development doesn't come through and the pacing feels a bit slow. Anyone unfamiliar with the play may have difficulty understanding who these characters are and what is going on between them.

As I reviewed an opening weekend performance, I assume the actors in Much Ado may find their characters and tighten the story over the run of the show, and I certainly hope they do. Having seen many of these actors in other shows, I know there's an abundance of talent on the stage, and most of that talent is dormant and unutilized at the moment.

Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes, including one fifteen minute intermission.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING plays The City Theatre at 3823 Airport Blvd in Austin, TX now thru July 7th. Performances are Thursday - Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5:30pm with no performance on Thursday, July 4th. Tickets are $15-$25. For tickets and information, please visit www.citytheatreaustin.org.


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From This Author Jeff Davis

Jeff Davis is a graduate of the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television where he obtained his Bachelor's Degree in Theater with an emphasis (read more...)