When given the respect and treatment it deserves, it is hard for a Shakespearian comedy to be anything less than a good night out. And that is exactly how to describe Theatre For A New Audience’s current staging of “Much Ado About Nothing.” While the production is far from groundbreaking, the cast and creative team do the play justice.
This “Much Ado” is set in early 20th century Sicily. It is the story of a young couple in love, Claudio and Hero, and their desperate quest to play matchmaker to Claudio’s friend, the stubborn Benedick, and Hero’s disagreeable cousin, Beatrice. All seems to be going according to plan when the malicious Don John decides to frame Hero as an adulteress. Hero and Claudio’s impending wedding falls apart and it is up to Beatrice and Benedick to set things right again.
Jonathan Cake’s Benedick is the driving comedic force throughout the show. He quickly establishes a friendly rapport with the audience, turning the spectators into his confidants as he shares his thoughts on life and love. As he spars with Maggie Siff’s enjoyably catty Beatrice, we readily root for the relationship, just waiting for their hate to turn into love.
A crew of actors who dutifully play their roles surrounds the duo. Matthew Amendt, as Claudio, and Michelle Beck, as Hero, make a pretty couple. While they don’t exactly steal scenes, it is impossible not to feel a pang of sorrow for Hero when Claudio viciously leaves her at the altar.
Don John, played by Saxon Palmer, is amusingly evil. John Keating delivers a round of laughs as Verges, a delightfully awkward member of the city-watch who seems to always be out of place.
Arin Arbus’ direction is mostly well done. While one or two scenes fall flat, mostly ones without Benedick, “Much Ado” generally moves along at a swift pace that is more than enough to keep things interesting. Although the Sicilian setting is hardly original, Riccardo Hernandez’s simple set, consisting of a grassy stage, a tree and a swing, is pretty enough.
The original music, composed by Michael Friedman to accompany Shakespeare’s lyrics, is a highlight of the show. The cast sounds lovely on the few songs sprinkled throughout the scenes.
“Much Ado About Nothing” is really a play worth seeing in any context. In its production, Theatre For A New Audience has successfully created a very pretty version of an excellent play.
“Much Ado About Nothing” is playing now through April 6 at the Duke On 42nd Street.
Dylan Jarrett is a staff writer. Email her at email@example.com.
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