Much Ado About Nothing
Austin Shakespeare's free production in Zilker Park provides affordable, above-average dinnertime amusement
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., May 23, 2008
Much Ado About Nothing
Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater, through May 25
Much Ado About Nothing is the Shakespearean comedy that is best known for the "merry war betwixt" the two leads, Beatrice and Benedick. If one goes to see Macbeth for the ghosty bits and Romeo and Juliet for the doomed love, then Much Ado sells its tickets on the rivalry and wit of a man and woman who are tricked into loving each other. They are feisty, fierce, and oh so much fun to watch when they finally attempt to get along.
Directed by Artistic Director Ann Ciccolella, Austin Shakespeare's free production at the Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater doesn't disappoint in that regard. Babs George's Beatrice and Matthew Radford's Benedick go at each other with a pleasure that crosses over into the audience.
The part of Beatrice typically goes to a spitfire of fewer years than the talented George. It's an unusual casting choice but not a bad one. Austin Shakespeare's production suggests, in good humor, that Beatrice and Benedick have managed to evade marriage for a bit longer than most.
As the lone accent in the cast, Radford does nothing to dispel the stereotype that British people are simply born knowing how to perform Shakespeare. He might be working himself to pieces onstage, but from the audience, his wonderful performance appears effortless and easy. It's not hard to see his Benedick as a modern-day middle-aged bachelor, a party boy who won't grow up but is fun to have around.
The script is built on deceptions. Two characters, the innocent Hero and the dashing Claudio, are to be married. In the week of downtime before the wedding, the guests devise an elaborate ruse to trick Beatrice and Benedick into falling in love. Meanwhile, the villain, Don John, plots to turn Claudio against Hero with the help of some mistaken identity. It's up to the bride's family to come up with another plan to trick Claudio into feeling really bad about it.
All of it relies on timing, and this production almost gets there. The leads are strong, but the ensemble is at times uneven.
Visually, the production comes across as fuzzy around the edges. Physical gags run a little loose in the crowd scenes, with extra movement pulling focus. The masque ball of Act II is choreographed in the style of one of the famous dancing-bantering scenes from a Jane Austen novel, which is great in concept, but from high on the lawn, it's sometimes hard to tell which characters are talking.
Outdoor summer Shakespeare shows are about picnicking to the tune of great dramatic literature, though. This Much Ado provides Austinites with affordable, above-average dinnertime amusement.