'Much Ado' Carries Forth Merrily at Cal Shakes

Photo: Trout mask replica. Jonathan Moscone's production of 'Much Ado About Nothing' runs through Oct. 17 at the Bruns Amphitheatre.
Victoria Chow/Staff
Trout mask replica. Jonathan Moscone's production of 'Much Ado About Nothing' runs through Oct. 17 at the Bruns Amphitheatre.

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'Much Ado About Nothing'
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The world must be peopled. Everyone can master a grief but he that has it. He that has a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man: and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him.

These are but three of the many morsels of wisdom dotting Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing," now showing at the California Shakespeare Theater. Nestled in the hills of Orinda, Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone has been handed the triple gift of a stellar cast, an enchanting set (designed by Daniel Ostling) and an unstoppably witty rom-com. With all this, he has brought something enchanting to the Bruns Memorial Amphitheatre through the creative combination of these lucky theatrical elements.

One of Moscone's most effective choices was in casting Benedick (Andy Murray) and Beatrice (Domenique Lozano) as the older and more mature characters they were intended to be. This is not to say that Murray and Lozano are particularly old, only that they are markedly older than the young star-crossed couple of Claudio (Nick Childress) and Hero (Emily Kitchens).

These latter characters appear as the epitome of youth, wide-eyed and rosy-cheeked and falling in love too fast. Meanwhile Benedick and Beatrice, at first bitter and cruel to one another in their "merry war" of wit and words, provide a comical reflection of Claudio and Hero's consuming infatuation, proving that love makes fools of people no matter their age.

Another effective line of contrast in Moscone's production can be drawn between the first and second halves. Prior to the intermission, the action is pure comedy, with smiling actors traipsing about the stage in airy costumes and airy moods. This only serves the drama of the heartbreaking fallout at Claudio and Hero's wedding, when he publicly shames and falsely accuses her. We see the innocent Claudio of the first half descend into the cocky, cruel-hearted creature of the second, having been fooled by the deceptions of the play's sourest grape - Don John, played by the one and only Danny Scheie.

It would require the brutal destruction of a protected forest's worth of California pines to produce enough paper on which to write the praises of Scheie as Don John (the bad guy) and Dogberry (the night constable and blundering egoist). That kind of a statement would cause any editor to shudder and use the word "effusive." But such an editor has never heard Scheie utter the word "thither" in such a way that would induce a fit of giggles in the coldest and most rational of newspapermen.

Certainly it is the cast that leaves the most lasting impression of Moscone's "Much Ado." The way Beatrice brazenly clamors over the audience during the eavesdropping scene; the little tender looks swapped between Claudio and Hero when no one is looking; the tragedy of Leonato (Dan Hiatt) grieving his only daughter's fall from grace.

On the backs of these talents, the show is carried merrily forth. There is not so much as a moment's pause to allow any measure of boredom or distraction. Always some new action or wit is charging forth at full throttle, via a dramatic entrance marching to center stage, or more often in the form of a clever claim from the stubborn mouth of a defiant character only minutes away from being vanquished by love.


Prevent the brutal destruction of pines with Hannah at [email protected]

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