Sunday, March 03, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

Here are the main reasons to see this lovely production of Much Ado About Nothing: Jonathan Cake as Benedick. Clear and smart direction by Arin Arbus. Jonathan Cake. Delightful scenery (Riccardo Hernandez) and beautifully moody lighting (Donald Holder). Jonathan Cake. A solid cast. Jonathan Cake.

Maggie Siff, Jonathan Cake
Photo: Gerry Goodstein
Without Jonathan Cake, this Ur rom-com would still be worth seeing, but with Jonathan Cake, it is a must-see. First, Cake has myriad physical gifts: a rich voice, a lovely accent, craggy good looks, and gawky grace. Second, he speaks Shakespearean English with an ease and clarity that allows the audience to fully experience the meaning and subtext. Third, he has impeccable comic timing. Fourth, he is enormously charismatic and can flirt with an entire audience with ease. In sum, he is delightful.

Unfortunately, Maggie Siff is not in his league. While there is much to admire in her performance, her voice comes across as thin and too contemporary. Also, her costumes and wig work against her. In terms of comic physicality and silent yearning, her Beatrice is Benedick's equal; in other terms, however, they are mismatched, somewhat throwing off the balance of the play (but not fatally).

Of course, there is more to Much Ado than Beatrice and Benedick, and Arbus does a good job minimizing the annoying subplot in which Benedick's friend Claudio is led to believe that his betrothed has been untrue. (As much as I try to put myself into the values of the time periods of the plays I see, and often succeed, I could not do it here. Claudio is a big baby, and all I could think was, "Get over your damn self.")

Much Ado provides the template of the romantic comedy genre with its squabbling lovers and silly obstacles. How impressive that it remains romantic and funny over 400 years after it was written (and how depressing to consider how far the genre has fallen).

(press ticket; 6th row center)

No comments: