Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Much Ado About Nothing
Also see Dean's review The Tempest at Shakespeare on the Plaza
Shakespeare's dialogue set the standard for this kind of witty repartee, and it remains fresh even after 400 years. The rest of Much Ado About Nothing is another story, however: Hero and Claudio fall in love at first sight. Don Pedro woos Hero in Claudio's stead (why?) at a masked ball. In classic theatrical masked ball fashion, people who know each other put on little masks and nobody recognizes anybody. (In this production, at least, Beatrice catches on that she's talking to Benedick, but strangely, Benedick doesn't seem to know it's Beatrice even though at the performance I attended she didn't even have her mask on.)
Don Pedro wins Hero for Claudio and they plan to marry within a few days. But Don Pedro's bastard half-brother Don John connives to make Claudio think that Hero is a slut (why?because in Shakespeare, all bastards are bastards, no other motivation needed). Claudio accuses Hero of being a whore during the wedding service. The news is circulated that Hero, heretofore a healthy young woman, has died of shame and humiliation and everyone believes it. Then there's a happy ending. I doubt that this kind of stuff was believable even in 1600.
The reason Much Ado is still popular, then, is the Beatrice and Benedick interplay. Martin Andrews, the director, was fortunate in his casting here. When you have Amelia Ampuero and Brennan Foster, two of Albuquerque's finest actors, in those roles, you pretty much can't lose. It's also an indication of the high regard in which Martin is held that they and 18 other actors wanted to work with him.
The production is spritely, and the scenes of Beatrice and Benedick hiding while their friends are talking about them are hilarious. The acting is almost uniformly fine. Besides the two stars, good work is done by Kelly O'Keefe, Kelsey Anne O'Keefe, John Wylie, Benjamin Liberman, Jen Stephenson, Arthur Alpert, Joe Damour, Nicholas Ganjei, Bridget Dunne, Jonathan Tyrell, and Mark Hisler, who, as Don Pedro, gets to speak what I think is the saddest line in all of Shakespeare: "Will you have me, lady?"
A couple of things puzzled me. There are flamenco dance numbers at the beginning and end and as a couple of intermezzos. I'm not sure why, since the play is set in Messina, Italy. Maybe because Don Pedro and retinue come from Aragon, in Spain, Martin thought to give the production a Spanish flavor (or maybe it's just because Albuquerque is the flamenco capital of North America). In any case, the dances do not add much to the show.
More puzzling, however, is why the Dogberry scenes are such a flop. These are supposed to be the comic relief, but they are desperately unfunny. It could be because Shakespeare's comedy for the groundlings doesn't hold up well after 400 years, but I think it's mainly because John Baca-Saavedra, who has been very good in other plays, is quite miscast as Dogberry. To my mind, it would have been better to have Neil Faulconbridge, who plays Verges, switch roles with Baca-Saavedra. Or, just drop the Dogberry scenes altogether.
Except for these lapses, it's a fine production. Amelia and Brennan are in top form, and the Beatrice-Benedick war of words never grows old.
Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Martin Andrews, is being presented by the Vortex Theatre and the City of Albuquerque as Shakespeare on the Plaza, in downtown Albuquerque. In repertory with The Tempest. Through July 3, 2016. Thursdays through Sundays at 7:30pm. Performance schedule at www.vortexabq.org. Admission is free.