Much Ado About Nothing
Modern-day adaption of Bard's classic comedy is now running at St. Louis Repertory Theatre
"Much Ado About Nothing" is one of the most popular Shakespearean comedies, with good reason. It's both accessible by all and funny. The story centers on two couples: one pair, Claudio and Hero, a more conventional romance; and the other pair, Benedick and Beatrice, who needle and bait each other endlessly. It is this second pair that provides most of the comedy in the tale.
This latest production of the play is now running at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
The time period and locale of the play changes from its original Italian villa in Shakespeare's time to somewhere in the American Midwest shortly after the end of World War I. Shifting a Shakespearean play to a different historical period and location is a popular technique in stage productions and films, like Kenneth Branaugh's Hamlet set at the turn of this century.
The entire play takes place on a single set, with different portions of the set serving for different scenes.
As is usually the case with plays at the Rep, the actors are wonderful. Don Burroughs as Benedick carried a lot of the comedic focus of this version. His energetic slapstick performance was funny and appealing, with great interaction with the audience, which is possible because of the Rep's stage configuration (surrounded on three sides by the audience). Great comic use was made of a pool of water under a bridge at the center of the stage, one of the best touches to this production. Christa Scott-Reed as Beatrice was tart, funny, and sharp. Joneal Joplin, as Hero's father Leonato, is wonderful, as always, and Robert Elliot as Dogberry is delightfully bizarre, in a performance reminiscent of Michael Keaton's in the Kenneth Branaugh film version of this play.
The shifting of the comedy to America at the end of World War I seemed to add little to the play, while not detracting from it either. While the actors looked appealing in the World War I uniforms, the other costumes were less convincing and not a lot else was done to create the feeling of the time period. However, the slapstick approach to the material, especially in the performance of Benedick did fit well with the era of Charlie Chaplin and Keystone comedies. If the director hoped to evoke the beginning of the century here at the end of it, then more effort to evoke that time was needed. The play's notes indicated that the director was hoping to Americanize the play by using the Midwest and this century, and the play lacks attempts at English accents, but overall this reframing is a stretch in a tale that features common people referring to the main characters as "your Lordship," not a typical American phrase.
Despite this minor shortcoming, the performance was delightful and provides a wonderful evening's entertainment.
(Now appearing at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in Webster Groves, through Nov. 12)