“Much Ado About Nothing” [THEATER REVIEW]
Listen, I won’t burn up three paragraphs clearing my throat, but instead come straight to the point: Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” onstage in Manhattan Beach, is superbly rendered and contains a wealth of fine acting.
Directed by Jack Messenger, and produced by Messenger and Lois Bourgon with the Manhattan Beach Community Church Theatre, the play opened last weekend and concludes with three more shows through Sunday. After that it’s history and you’ll never find it on Netflix.
“Much Ado About Nothing” is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, but this isn’t Laurel and Hardy, it’s a profound, deeply affecting comedy that also breathes anguish and tragedy. Yes, all’s well that ends with a kiss, but the finale is too pat (sorry, Mr. Bard) and matters wrap up with no hair out of place, as was often the fashion in days of old.
War hero Claudio (Reed Arnold) espies the Hero of his heart (Annalee Scott), and the wheels are set in motion for him to marry her, aided and abetted by his friend Don Pedro (Mike Fountain). Alas, into this mix swims the villainous Don John (Louie Ski Carr), who is Don Pedro’s bastard brother.
Carr is a splendid actor, his dark gravitas is palpable, and I kept thinking that he’d make an ideal Othello – a part, I later realized, he’s already played. His partner in crime is Borachio, a role that Daniel A. Tennant handles with demonic grace, if you can imagine an Elizabethan Peter Lorre.
There is Hero’s father, Leonato, but Paul Buxton’s character doesn’t really catch fire until he explodes with paternal fury at the men who’ve accused his daughter of infidelity. What anger, what rage, what sublime passion!
The church theater stage is not spacious, and it visibly cramps the style of certain actors, but Michael Hovance as Benedick takes command of it. He is expressive and animated throughout, but never more than is necessary, for under Messenger’s direction “Much Ado” doesn’t wander into foolishness or camp as it might in high school or even college productions.
Angie Light is an entertaining Beatrice, also expressive, who crosses verbal blades with Benedick, both characters taking the long, circuitous route to true love.
Yvonne Robertson, in a gender reversal that works admirably, is Constable Dogberry. Her sidekick Verges (Jeff Asch) is reminiscent of Dracula’s valet Renfield. Pretty Jessica Plotin plays Hero’s handmaiden Margaret with youthful zest and an endearing sauciness. And, although his appearances are brief, Chris O’Connor’s Sexton is true perfection.
Believing that Hero is dead and that he is responsible, Claudio agrees to marry her cousin, sight unseen. But when he lifts her veil he discovers that it’s Hero herself, and very much alive. This is where the play needs to be three seconds longer because every emotion in the world needs to converge here, from the shock of astonishment to the silent thunder of joy and sorrow. This should be Claudio’s – and Reed Arnold’s – greatest moment onstage. I’ll say no more.
I’m amazed at how sound this production is, but I’ll be amazed again (and this time not in a good way) if there isn’t an ample audience at each performance. Don’t disappoint me, please; go and see it.
Much Ado About Nothing is onstage at the Manhattan Beach Community Church Theatre, 303 S. Peck Ave., M.B. This Friday (tomorrow) and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets, $20. Call Nancye Ellington at (310) 379-3139 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. ER