Shakespeare & Company’s “Much Ado” Sparkles and Shines in the Sun

Director Kelly Galvin with “Much Ado About Nothing” at Shakespeare & Co. has concocted a sparkling summer cocktail of Shakespeare’s spikiest comedies full of warmth, beauty and fun without losing any of its darker notes…indeed the production has leaned in and highlighted some.

The men have come home from the war to Leonato’s (Nigel Gore) palazzo and very quickly nuptials are planned for Claudio (Gregory Boover) and the daughter of the house, Hero (Gina Fonseca). Don John (Madeline Rose Maggio), brother of the commanding officer, Don Pedro (Jake Waid), tells us he is a villain and proceeds to endanger the wedding with a plot to defraud Claudio and slander Hero. What follows is a terribly brutal wedding where Claudio, instead of marrying Hero, denounces her with a tremulous voice on the altar as a slattern…and everyone takes his side.

It’s a hateful scene.

Nigel Gore, Naire Poole, Gina Fonseca/Nile Scott Studios

Also at this Italian summer reunion is the warring couple of Beatrice (Tamara Hickey) and Benedick (L. James). They are the prototype of the romantic duo who cannot get enough of insulting and arguing with each other. So much so, that their bickering can only mean one thing, they must be in love. S&Co has two champion combatants in Hickey and James. Their eyes light up at the sight of each other and their impeccable dialogue has been refined to perfection as every parry, thrust and block finds its mark. They are so much fun to watch tangle that when they step into each other’s arms, we are almost sad that their verbal fireworks will not continue.

Hickey has a fiery passion that serves the production exceptionally well and James has a rubbery physicality that’s great fun. His eavesdropping scene could have been cribbed from Looney Tunes.

Benedick, besotted, asks of Beatrice what she will have him do and her loud, determined response “Kill Claudio” sets a chill through the night before the sun has set.

Tamara Hickey. L. James/Nile Scott Studios

You’re not doing inclusive casting any favors by offering two of this play’s more thankless roles, Don John and Dogberry (Caroline Calkins), to women. Dogberry does get some laughs, a few with his pride at being called an ass by Conrad (Devante Owens, who nails Dogberry with it) but his scenes are tough sledding with all the repeated use of malaprops, Calkins does not overdo it. The Dogberry scenes do offer Gina Fonseca to have great fun in her second role as Verges, whether winded on the stairs or gleefully pummeling men with a kibosh.

The Lenox evening was perfect for the play at The New Spruce Theatre. The last of the day’s sun washed over the stage as Beatrice bathed in it at the play’s rise. Set designer Patrick Brennan has erected some pink arches and columns set in among the majestic trees that rise out of the stage floor upstage. Almost every scene has these decorated with silk streamers, garlands of flowers or some especially nice banners for the wedding. The costumes are outstanding. The men look great in and out of their uniforms with their striped trousers, the women in different colors of long dresses and the masked ball has a smashing menagerie of colorful animal costumes for the cast of twelve to cavort in.

Tamara Hickey/Nile Scott Studios

Claudio’s renunciation of Hero is hard to come back from but Nigel Gore’s search for forgiveness as Leonato with his gentle reach for Hero’s hand was moving.

It’s a beautiful, refreshing production of a problem play that will make you laugh, love and consider why things haven’t changed that much at all.

Through 8/14 @ The New Spruce Theatre, Shakespeare & Co.

Tickets: www.shakespeare.org

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