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Arts & Culture

Ashland Review: Much Ado About Nothing

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Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
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REVIEW OF MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

by Dorothy Velasco

March 31, 2015

There is much to enjoy in the production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” now playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Bowmer Theatre. There is just as much to criticize.

Shakespeare’s comedy about a love that grows slowly between witty, mature skeptics as compared to the pitfalls of impetuous young love, is a mixture of sophisticated sparring, slapstick and near tragedy.

As directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, the play is set in the present. Don Pedro, who has been fighting a war, brings his soldiers for a little R & R at the home of Leonato, the governor of Messina. Among the soldiers are Benedick, who has visited often, and his young friend Claudio, who quickly falls in love with Leonato’s innocent daughter Hero.

A couple of characters have been deleted, which is not unusual, and some have been adapted. Dogberry the constable, humorously played by Rex Young, rides a Segway on his rounds, and his assistant has been transformed into his mother, the tiny and very funny Eileen DeSandre.

Danforth Comins as Benedick and Christiana Clark as Beatrice are well matched in their wit, and they seem to feel some sexual chemistry. However, I don’t believe the well-brought-up Beatrice would pick her teeth in public, even if it’s to taunt Benedick.

Excessive silliness in the staging as these two characters try to hide while overhearing conversations about them has no basis in actual need. It quickly ceases to be funny and becomes annoying.

Don Pedro has an illegitimate brother named Don John, who is evil just for the fun of it. In this production Don John is a female soldier in a wheelchair who sometimes wears a dress, yet she is still called Lord. Am I missing something?

The slandering Don John convinces Claudio that Hero is a harlot instead of a chaste bride. Her reputation and their marriage appear to be doomed. Things will work out, but there’s not a spark of attraction between them, maybe because it’s hard to understand Claudio’s diction.

On a happier note, Beatrice and Benedick’s friends plot to make them realize they are in love but simply don’t know it.

The production is visually beautiful, with hundreds of strings of colorful paper flowers hanging overhead for a touch of enchantment.

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