Saturday, May 28, 2005

Much Ado about Nothing

It took director Dave Burmester 23 years to find the right cast to present William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about Nothing.” It was well worth the wait.

Acme Theater company’s 23rd annual free Shakespeare in the Park opened Friday at the Davis Art Center Outdoor Pavillion. It was a delight from beginning to end. It’s a story of love, hate, betrayal and redemption. It features everything from witty repartee to brief tragedy to hilarious slapstick highjinks.

In keeping with Acme’s tradition of using non-traditional locales, this “Much Ado” was set in nineteenth century Bahia, which gave the opportunity for a few colorful Brazilian dance numbers, choreographed by Laura Yen and Mollie Hope.

“Much Ado about Nothing” is one of Shakespeare’s better known comedies tells the tale of two couples, Hero and Claudio, who fall in love at first sight and who must weather a test of that love; and Beatrice and Benedick, who have been foils for one another since childhood and need help realizing that their biting, sarcastic remarks to each other are really hiding a deeper romantic feeling.

In any young persons’ theater production, you expect to find outstanding performances and merely competent performances. However, with “Much Ado,” Burmester has found a consistently excellent cast, starting with Anthony Pinto, as Leonato, the Governor of Bahia and father to Hero. Pinto handled the transition from serious to comic very well.

Betsy Raymond as Pinto’s sister Antonia, has a small role, but makes the most of it, and is allowed to shine in an act 2 scene.

Genevieve Moreno as Hero and Scott Scholes as Claudio are a very sweet love-sick couple, whose romance is momentarily sidetracked by the nefarious Don John (Josh Toliver), bastard brother of Don Pedro, who despises Claudio and is determined to foil his union with Hero. Don John is only unlikable character in the play (though Toliver’s performance itself was again excellent).

Maddy Ryen sparkles as Beatrice, an intelligent, feisty woman with a quick wit, eager to trade barbs with Benedick, a lord of Ceara, played by Andrew Conard. Ryen and Conard have marvelous comic timing and good chemistry between them. Their scenes together sizzled.

Don Pedro, the Prince of Rio, was played by James Henderson, in another very strong performance.

Dara Yazdani was the highlight of the evening with his over-the-top Kramer-esque interpretation of the constable, Dogberry, wearing a helmet with an impossibly large feather. Yazdani is tall of stature, with a body that at times seemed to be made of silly putty. From the moment he marched on the stage, chanting “Left, right...left, right...left right” (while actually always marching Right, left...right, left...right, left), he was impossible to ignore.

Dogberry’s entourage, Verges (Fiona Lakeland), Virges (Laura Flanigan) and members of the watch: Ali Moreno, Julieanne Conard and Ernie Hernandez moved with the precision of Rockettes and were very funny.

Lesser roles included Tatiana Ray as Margaret and Randi Famula as Ursula, two of Hero’s “gentlewomen.” Eric Delacorte was Borachio and Jack Leuchars was Conrade--both followers of Don John, who convince Claudio that Hero has been unfaithful to him.

Nate Strickland was Friar Francis, who advises Hero to pretend to be dead in order to win back the hand of her beloved, Claudio. (This friar’s advice was more successful than that given to Juliet in a different Shakespeare play!)

Victoria Gimpelevich was a Sexton. Lisa Voelker was a Messenger. Randi Famula, Laura Flanigan and Tatiana Ray also doubled as dancers.

Set design by Eric Delacorte and David Burmester and set decoration by Karlee Finch created a sense of being in Brazil, while light and sound board operator Cristina Granada helped to complement the mood with Brazilian music. The “trees” for Leonato’s Orchard were great!

Costume design was by Randi Famula, whose costumes for Dogberry and the wedding attire for the women were particularly effective.

The Art Center is a delightful place for an open-air production (except for the occasional biker or rollerblader passing through the middle of the audience). Acme’s annual Shakespeare is its gift to Davis in thanks for the city’s support through the years. One could not ask for a more rewarding thank you, or a more delightful way to spend a pre-summer’s evening. There will be performances Sunday and Monday evenings at 8 p.m. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this little gem.

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