"Much Ado About Nothing"
Connecticut Free Shakespeare, Bridgeport
Artistic director Ellen Lieberman has done it again! Her version of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” is one delightfully irreverent romp. Irreverent, but not irrelevant. Lieberman has played fast and loose with Shakespeare, but that’s OK. (Cole Porter and the Spewacks did the same with “Taming of the Shrew,” turning it into the marvelous “Kiss Me Kate.”) This time around Lieberman has updated the Shakespearean comedy, setting it in a mythical town of Madison, circa 1973. Watergate, returning Viet Nam vets, the feminist movement, and ‘70s music are all in the mix.
Most importantly, Lieberman makes the most of the Beardsley Park setting. It is part of the package, as are the intermission shenanigans which turn viewers into performers. Her gifted players, who sing, dance and mix with the audience, all add to the evening’s fun and to audience involvement.
As to the story itself, this “Much Ado” still revolves around Beatrice and Benedict, sparring partners who love and battle in spirited style. The two leads, Katrina Foy and Eric Nyquist seem born for the roles, giving off sparks as their love story unfolds. It is high comedy of the very best sort—and the two handle their Shakespearean lines even as they turn their characters into vulnerable human beings.
The parallel love story of Hero and Claudio provides the serious element. Hero, about to wed Claudio, is falsely accused of being unchaste (an ever-present theme in Elizabethan drama). While Erin Scanlon has little opportunity to show off acting skills as the passive Hero, Mark Friedlander shines as the impassioned Claudio.
On the whole, viewers are treated to a skilled cast, with some less satisfying than others. If anything disappoints, it is the production’s handling of the low comedy scenes, which are often confusing. Nonetheless, the audience is swept along, not only by the fast-paced story but by the ‘70s music and the gifted musicians. (Nyquist, for example, is as handy with the guitar as he is in creating a believable Benedict.)
Fortunately, Lieberman’s troupe continues this romp for another week in Guilford, giving local laggards still one more chance to see this delightful show.
-- -Irene Backalenick
Jan. 12, 2005