For Email Marketing you can trust

Much Ado About Nothing

Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater

                      by Eugene Paul

In this city of miracles, something of a miracle is happening in Central Park and the adumbrations at the Delacorte are many.  A.  Performances continue to be free, an impossible dream for the dreamer, Joe Papp, a continuing  benison to millions of visitors old and new, two thousand at a sitting.  B.  YOU CAN HEAR EVERY WORD sung or uttered, in Jack O’Brien’s sumptuously sunny production. C. In the lavish setting that theatrical design legend John Lee Beatty has splurged all over the immense Delacorte amphitheater stage there are trees, palm, orange, New York, vegetable gardens, peppers, tomatoes, carrots,  velvet lawns, a burbling fountain and its pool – and a magical, comedy wall –yes, a wall! – that gets laughs!.  D.  Last but not least, this dratted, monumentally loved and admired ramshackle of a play has been whittled, weeded, wheedled shoved into being an overall pleasure instead of the awesome conundrum it is, thanks to circus master Jack O’Brien who, this time, makes every damn thing work the way he wants.  But he couldn’t do anything about the title.

“Much Ado About Nothing?” It must have been one of Shakespeare’s envious enemies who hung that klunker of misdirection on as craftily constructed a corkscrew of a play as Master Will ever concocted.  He knew his groundlings from those who paid to sit, the gawkers who stood and stood through five acts, adoring grandnesses rather than small niceties, hence Shakespeare’s peopling his plays as often as possible with nobles, grandees, swells.  You can hardly say that such folk indulge in much ado about nothing, now can you.  Viz and to wit:

Jack Cutmore-Scott and Brian Stokes Mitchell            photos by Joan Marcus

The Prince of Aragon (imposing Brian Stokes Mitchell) stops off from his wars with his company at the Governor’s mansion in Messina, Italy, to visit a spell with his friend, the Governor (stalwart John Glover) and, irresistibly, with the Governor’s daughter, the delightful Hero (delightful Ismenia Mendes) and the Governor’s niece, Beatrice (salty Lily Rabe). Two officers, among his escorts, Claudio (Jack Cutmore-Scott) and Benedick (splendid Hamish Linklater) also find the girls irresistible, in fact, Claudio wants instanter to marry Hero and Benedick wants to choke raspy voiced  Beatrice who has been ragging him for years, with never the last word to Benedick.  Beatrice bests him over and over, wittily, cleverly, bawdily.

We, as devoted audience, are meant to wrap ourselves happily in their word play fencing.  There are those of us who do not wrap that easily, and in this, as in several of his comedies, Shakespeare word plays by the bucket load.  Which, in part, is why Shakespeare is not done these days as in the original.  His plays are streamlined for today’s schedules , tastes, comfort zones and it is even thus in Central Park, so relax.  Beatrice and Benedick beat their brains out – and ours – but in funny, digestible, tasty doses.  The merry fracas foretells more merriment: the Prince plots for his own amusement to make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love – which we could have told anyone -- and also to woo Hero as a bride for Claudio, for no apparent reason except he feels like it.  Well, it’s part of the play.

But – trouble brews.  The plot thickens.  The Prince’s dastard, bastard brother, Don John (snarly Pedro Pascal) hates his brother, because -- , well, because. And thus, hates his brother’s  friends, because, well, the same.  A sniveling servant, Borachio (Eric Sheffer Stevens) a servant in the Governor’s household guarantees Don John he knows of a way to spoil everything, for a fee. (Sometimes Shakespeare just plain trowels it on.)  The villainous plot is enacted.  And works.  Better – read “worse” – than Don John could have hoped.  Everything is in turmoil, everybody hates everybody.

John Glover, Lily Rabe, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Ismenia Mendes, and Jack Cutmore-Scott

But --  there’s that  “but“  again – Shakespeare knows his crowd and engineering a happy ending is child’s play to him. You just have to go with the flow and not ask too many questions.  It is not, however, child’s play that director O’Brien wields, it is wit and charm and and wise borrowings and exceptional skills and a company that dances to all his tunes. Thus, Danny Mefford has choreographed dance movement which appears jolly, endearingly countrified and well within the capabilities of his splendid company. Music even more appealing than for his dancers has been created as well for the singing of  Brian Stokes Mitchell and Steel Burkhardt  by composer David Yazbek. The lighting by Jeff Croiter and the superb sound enhancement by Acme Sound Partners are models of theatrical craftsmanship.

Everyone looks comfortable, peasant to prince, in Jane Greenwood’s musty looking costumes, the men a bit shabby, the women somewhat better.  Why the women appear in their undergarments early on- chaste, sheltered gentle ladies? – could lead you to think  John Ford bordello, but lots of fanning and second thoughts indicate that it is only hot Italian air, atmosphere, and in context. Enjoy.

Delacorte Theater, Central Park, near 79th Street, Free tickets at noon, day of performance.
Runs through July 6