MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Shakespeare’s “merry war” of the sexes (@ Bay Colony Shakespeare through Aug. 3rd) runs in repertory this summer with MACBETH and HAMLET. How’s that for a gargantuan effort: The company of a dozen or so actors appear in all three plays. If MUCH ADO is any indication of the other two, I presume they’ll possess the same level of attention and invention.
Director Jess Guyon sets the MUCH ADO romp in 1945 (staying in Italy) where a troop of American soldiers celebrate the end of the war with swing dancing and a romantic dalliance or two. The brash Benedick swears up and down that he’ll never marry…so his fellow soldiers set out to trick him into succumbing.
Beatrice, whom Benedick snidely calls “Lady Disdain” is his match in bravado and determination. She vows she’ll never fall for any man. Before you can say “what fools these mortals be,” they’re falling all over each other, believing the outrageous flattery their friends have counterfeited to bring them together.
Shakespeare has a serious subplot in MUCH ADO, where gossip and deception result in genuine harm. The company smoothly navigates both the spirited artifice of the Beatrice and Benedick plot and the stark contrast in the slanderous mistaken identity charges.
Neil McGarry as Benedick embraces the high comedy (even appearing in drag at a masquerade party) without sacrificing the man’s nobility. After all, we witness the honorable Benedick stand up for the women when everyone else has been led astray. Kudos to McGarry and Poornima Kirby, as the fiery Beatrice (donning a man’s suit for that very same soiree!) to play her revenge request in earnest. (Believe it or not sometimes it’s unfortunately played for laughs.) Kirby’s Beatrice is intelligent, witty and brash but you can see the vulnerability in her eyes.
Guyon has a game cast all around, with Tom Grenon a standout as the horrified father of the bride, when his daughter (Monica Girodano) is jilted at the altar. Dan Anderson as the ‘almost’ groom redeems his character when he learns the truth, as does Cameron Beaty Gosselin as the commanding army c.o.
Ross Magnant makes a brazen bad guy but it’s Ross MacDonald who steals the show as the fumbling, easily distracted constable (not that Erica Simpson doesn’t give him a run for his money as his long suffering lieutenant). MacDonald seizes the opportunity to extemporize on myriad subjects while he’s delivering Shakespeare’s actual lines. (One might raise an eyebrow if one weren’t laughing so hard she couldn’t).
The only snag (or as the Bard would call it, an “impediment”) at Bay Colony’s brand new digs is the high ceiling in the former church sanctuary space. Precious dialogue had a tendency to fly upward toward the heavens instead of straight out to the audience at my performance. This happened more to the soft voiced actors, especially when the text lent itself to intimate exchanges. I think it’s only a matter of projection and getting used to the new space before those stars Beatrice knows so well will be dancing again.