Mucho Jaleo Sobre Nada*

Shakespeare Theatre/Scott Suchman
For Girl Weed's birthday, we splurged and took the entire family to see the Shakespeare Theatre's production of Much Ado About Nothing, and I want to put in a little plug for it in case anyone local is of a mind to buy theater tickets as a Christmas gift.

The kids were well prepared to enjoy it, since we read it together last year (and the little boys learned they can get away with saying the word "ass" with great gusto if they are reading Shakespeare) and saw the Branagh film. Middle Weed in particular is completely taken with Dogberry.

I think I liked it least of everyone in my family, but that shouldn't put you off. My complaints are minor. The lead roles of Benedick and Beatrice are well-cast and wonderfully-observed, and ensemble regulars Ted Van Griethuysen and Floyd King wring every possible guffaw out of the clownish Dogberry and Verges.

My objection is that the production's conceit of placing the action in pre-revolutionary Cuba is somewhat distracting. The set -- a gorgeous Cuban villa complete with fountains and bougainvillea-- is splendid, as are the costumes, but it all feels ever-so-slightly forced. Insofar as the play needs to take place on an island and the Spanish culture helps make sense of the attitudes towards women's purity, it works.

But the director is more interested in the Cubanismo of the production than the text of the play, and pushes the issue somewhat. When the army arrives to be quartered at Leonato's (they march in singing "Guantanamera"), everyone goes into dinner and we're treated to a wild santerĂ­a-influenced masque, with no purpose other than scene-setting. It goes on and on as if to say, "Look, isn't Cuban culture wild? And we know so much about it!" 

Not that the Cuban music and dancing isn't great in itself, but it can be obtrusive. We saw it in preview, and a few of the opening scenes didn't seem to me to have quite gelled yet, and the first act pacing dragged. There was even a dropped line and an awkward "save," --something I've never seen at the Shakespeare Theatre before. All of that added to my overall impression that the director had pushed the Cuban updating harder than text and staging. 

An occasional dropped line happens eventually to every actor, and at the time we attended, the cast was recovering from the sudden departure (a week before opening) of the actress slotted to play Beatrice, which could certainly have thrown off the pace, so I imagine those things are rectified by now. They were only minor annoyances even the night we watched.

A fun production, and Mr. W. and all the Weedlets gave it high ratings.

*In case anyone cares, the traditional Spanish title for "Much Ado" is actually "Mucho Ruido y Pocas Nueces," or lots of noise, few nuts. Must be an idiom.