REVIEW: A Terrific Much Ado, The Seventh Row

Seventh Row, Posted on 

A Terrific Much Ado

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successful production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” must satisfy three requirements: Beatrice and Benedick — the lovers in a merry war of wit — have to be lovable, the story needs to be clear, and the jokes have to land.

Mike Ryan and Greta Wohlrabe as 'Benedick' and 'Beatrice' in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. Photo by rr jones.

Mike Ryan and Greta Wohlrabe as ‘Benedick’ and ‘Beatrice’ in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. Photo by rr jones.

Even Kenneth Branagh’s otherwise brilliant and definitive film of the play suffered from a horribly wooden villain in its Don John (Keanu Reeves), but it didn’t matter because Branagh’s Benedick and Emma Thompson’s Beatrice were so perfect. Although Joss Whedon’s 2013 film illuminated new aspects of the play, it hasn’t reached canon because his Benedick and Beatrice were so unlikable, their verbal sparring more cruel than jovial and funny. Laura Gordon’s new production of “Much Ado About Nothing” at Santa Cruz Shakespeare passes the test, with particularly strong performances from Greta Wohlrabe scene-stealing Beatrice and Mike Ryan’s Benedick. This is one of the summer’s must-see plays.

As the production is set in the 1940s, the first sign that Beatrice is a thoroughly modern woman, even before she speaks, is the fact that she wears sensible slacks. Although Wohlrabe’s harsh American accent requires some getting used to, her overwhelming charm and stage presence are what you’ll remember. When the play opens, she and her family receive a message that the Prince Don Pedro (Kipp Moorman) will be coming for a visit with his soldiers in tow, including Señor Benedick (Mike Ryan, a convincing and funny if somewhat juvenile Benedick). She need only say a few clever words to the messenger (Sharon Shao) for us to be completely mesmerized and on her side – hardly a surprise from a woman who made Celia one of the most interesting characters in last year’s “As You Like It.”

Nina Ball’s simple but versatile set places us on the front lawn of Leonata’s estate, where there are two benches arranged in a ‘V’-shape, a second floor balcony overlooking it, and a main entrance to the building centre stage. As the balcony and façade consist of metal framing festooned with flowers, …

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Tickets on sale now for the 2015 season, which features three outdoor productions, starting with the wickedly romantic Shakespeare comedy Much Ado About Nothing, opening July 3; followed by David Ives’s modern adaptation of the wickedly hilarious 17th century farce, The Liar, opening July 24; and Shakespeare’s wicked tragedy, Macbeth, opening August 7. Plus, SCS continues the tradition of its intern-showcasing Fringe production with four performances of the wickedly festive comedy The Rover, starting August 18.

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