Thursday, September 17, 2009

OSF: Much Ado About Nothing

Weisenheimer has seen Much Ado About Nothing about a zillion times. My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I wore out a VHS version of the 1993 Kenneth Branagh film before finally springing for the DVD, which we watch frequently. Thus, we were delighted to lead off our week at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with a production of Much Ado on the outdoor Elizabethan Stage, but wondered what they could do to get around the well-remembered images of Branagh, Emma Thompson, and the film cast.

OSF delivered.

Director Kate Buckley set the OSF production in post-WWII Italy. (Sweetie speculates that the costume department scored a big discount on a supply-truck load of 40s military regalia.) Buckely restored a lot of dialog that Branagh cut. And she cast the major combatants/lovers, Beatrice and Benedick, as much older characters than is typical. Robynn Rodriguez and David Kelly were marvelous as the lead couple.

Kelly in particular was hilarious, not only in his verbal sparring with Rodriguez but in a number of slapstick scenes as well. Particularly riotous was the scene in which his cohorts attempted to plant the seed that Beatrice loved him. He started out hiding behind the wall of an on-stage pond, skulked around behind various props around the stage until he found himself back at, then underwater in, the pond. A couple of prodigious spit takes and requisite splashing of the front-row folks, and he was off!

A great surprise was a virtuoso performance by Peter Macon in the role of Don Pedro. We pretty well dissed Macon for his performance as Othello in his OSF debut last year. But he showed great range and comedic chops as the leader of the returning warriors in this production.

OSF veteran Tony DeBruno is a hoot as the bumbling constable Dogberry. I would be remiss if I did not write down here that he is an ass. Juan Rivera LeBron and Sarah Rutan were fine as the young lovers Claudio and Hero, though Claudio is such a schmuck you want to slap him, falling for the trick that made him slander his honey at the altar. Christopher Michael Rivera drew the short straw and had to play Don John the bastard. I'm really looking forward to someone taking that role and doing it up nasty. Bill Geisslinger was steady and agitatable as our host Leonato.

My one real quibble was that Kelly raced through Benedick's play closing speech awfully rapidly. That college-of-witcrackers thing is one of my favorites, and it was over before it began. All in all, OSF's Much Ado was an entertaining success.

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