Never too much ado …
Summer’s here, hurrah! And with it the delightful Marin Shakespeare Company’s annual festival under the skies. Kicking off the season is Much Ado About Nothing, which opened this past weekend. Other plays in the season include The Three Musketeers and Love’s Labours Lost.
Director Robert Currier sets the scene in Appalachia “during the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys.” And the play is suitably adapted. Benedick can be heard to remark that Claudio looks like a “mackerel at the end of a hillbilly’s hook,” and everyone speaks with an accent like Cletus Delroy Spuckler. Hoedowns abound.
A heap o’ music was written by Billie Cox, who not only sets Shakespeare’s songs – and it’s a wonder to hear the “hey nonny nonny” in “Sing No More, Ladies” in hillbilly accents – but also adds tunes and incidental music in foot-stomping country style. Careful attention was paid to selecting actors who could sing, and the harmonization throughout was tasty. Joshua Hollister, as Claudio, had an especially lovely light tenor voice. The actors also played a range of instruments: guitar, flute, tambourine, mandolin and the hybrid banjolele. Everyone danced.
Cox, who loves this style of music, researched the music by going through the singers of the period born in the region, including Jimmie Rodgers, Jean Ritchie and the Carter Family. The opening song is one she wrote specifically for the play, in which the men have been away at war and the women have coped in the best way they knew – by drinking “Moonshine,” a girl’s best friend.
Elena Wright played the feisty – and in this version, cigar-smoking and hooch-swigging – Beatrice, she who secretly loves Benedick but would defy her emotions till the end. And Dameion Brown, who is actually from Tennessee, played an exasperated and equally irritable Benedick, he who secretly loves Beatrice, but can only suffer so much abuse from her sharp tongue. The two played in last year’s Marin Shakespeare’s version of Othello. For which Brown won the Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his impassioned and vivid portrayal of Othello. Wright will also be seen later in the season as the conniving catspaw of the evil Cardinal Richelieu in the company’s production of The Three Musketeers.
Admirable performances were put in by Nicole Apostol Bruno as the ill-treated Hero, Steve Price as Hero’s father, Teddy Spenser as Don Pedro and Joshua Hollister as Hero’s jealous lover, Claudio. Clay David was blessed with the role of Don Pedro’s brother, John, the dark cloud who covers the otherwise sunny lives of the characters, and he made the most of the part, garnering applause from the audience for his sheer delight in badness. Cox’s song for him, “I’m Bad,” glittered with malicious glee.
Then there was the Watch, brilliantly played. Barry Kraft’s Dogberry was wonderful in his misuse of language. And Robert Currier must be given credit for making his long and often obscure rants understandable as well as laughable. His sidekicks, Debi Durst as Verges and Lindsey Schmeltzer, were the right amount of dumb and dumber. The audience was pleased.
Costumes were by Abra Berman, set design by Jackson Currier and lighting by April George.
So, treat yourself! Pack your picnic supper and head out for the Forest Auditorium on the Dominican College campus in Marin for an entertaining summer evening, enjoying the antics of the cast by the Man who put the act in character.
– Jaime Robles
Much Ado About Nothing continues through July 23. For information and tickets, visit marinshakespeare.org.
Photo: Elena Wright as Beatrice listens to her friends’ gossip about Benedick. Photo by Jay Yamada.