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June 16, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Theater review: 'Much Ado About Nothing' is, in fact, really something Theater review: 'Much Ado About Nothing' is, in fact, really something (June 16, 2004)

By Bryan Wiggin
Almanac Theater Critic

The Menlo Players Guild's Mid-Peninsula Shakespeare Festival has put together an impressively solid production of "Much Ado About Nothing." The acting is good throughout, and director Bruce W. De Les Dernier again shows his skill in a staging that is picturesque and active.

Beatrice, the niece of Leonato, governor of Messina, and Benedick, a lord of Padua, are old acquaintances. But they've developed the custom of verbal fencing, and what are called their "wit combats" are often pretty barbed.

Their friends, however, are convinced the two love each other, and endeavor to undo their animosity by talking of one's love for the other while the other is known to be listening. This is especially humorous when Leonato, the prince Don Pedro (Douglas Young), and the young lord Claudio stroll about a garden, expatiating on how much Beatrice loves Benedick while Benedick scurries about on hands and knees to avoid discovery.

Later, Beatrice is similarly duped by Hero, the daughter of Leonato, and Hero's servant Ursula.

Of course, one plot line is never enough for Shakespeare, and the second line presents the fresh young love between Claudio, a lord of Florence, and Hero. But Don John (Michael Uimari), Don Pedro's bastard brother, conspires to make Hero appear a loose woman, and Claudio repudiates her in the church where they are to wed. The officiating priest -- in this production conflated with Leonato's brother Antonio (Amr Mourad), instead of the separate Friar Francis in the text -- persuades them to put out the word that Hero has died of heartbreak.

Meanwhile, Dogberry and Verges (James G. Mantell and Tim Nielson), two comic constables, apprehend the henchmen of Don John, who spill the beans about the slander of Hero. These bumbling officials then relate the facts to Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio. Leonato demands that Claudio, who still thinks Hero is dead, marry the unknown daughter of brother Antonio. Claudio agrees, and is delighted when she turns out to be ... Hero. Beatrice and Benedick also agree to wed, and ... well ... it looks like another happy ending.

Director De Les Dernier takes the part of Leonato, and gives him lots of gristly character. Todd Wright, manly and handsome, is always excellent as lusty characters, and is so here as Benedick. Rachel Martin-Bakker's Beatrice is smart and spirited, with strength of character as well as speed of wit.

As Claudio, Fernando J. Paiz seemed a little reticent at first, but his speech of denunciation of Hero, flinging his words at the audience, was boldly theatrical. As Hero, Kimberly Dawn Wood is tender and vulnerable, and wracked with emotion at the right times. Allison Asher is a lusty Ursula.

The costumes from Pati Bristow are rich and handsome. The set of Matthew Riley is spare but, suitably, has several levels and many doors. As to sound, some voices were sometimes under-projected, and the amplification did not rescue them.

But, overall, the audience enjoyed this show as much as I did. And I enjoyed it. Remember, though, that it's cold out there, so dress appropriately.

"Much Ado About Nothing,"
by William Shakespeare, is being presented by the Mid-Peninsula Shakespeare Festival,
outdoors at Mid-Peninsula High School, 1340 Willow Road in Menlo Park.
Remaining performances are on Friday, June 18, and Sunday, June 27.
For information, call 322-3261, or visit www.menloplayersguild.org.


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