- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 16, 2002

''Much Ado About Nothing" at the Shakespeare Theatre is really something. It's energetic and funny, with fantastic acting and a set design that transports the audience back to F. Scott Fitzgerald land.
What better time in which to set this one of Shakespeare's lightest comedies than in the fun-filled Roaring '20s?
"Much Ado," like many of the Bard's plays, revolves around mistaken identities, two couples in love and a mean-spirited, melancholy bad guy as well as an upstanding, refined good guy, who doubles as a matchmaker.
One couple Beatrice, played by the radiant Karen Ziemba, and Benedick, played by funnyman Dan Snook provide most of the comedy. They do it through body language, witty lines, dances and slapstick, eliciting plenty of chuckles and laughs from the audience.
Shortly after the curtain rises revealing a bright green lawn, manicured bushes and long white balustrades (the makings of a '20s estate) the two Bs tell us they have sworn off love, which in Shakespearean lingo means they are bound for each other's arms, but only after a bunch of twists and turns in the plotline.
The other couple, of the traditionally romantic ilk, consists of Hero, played charmingly by Kathleen Early, and her blond suitor, Claudio, played by Barrett Foa (who looks as if he's barely out of high school).
The matchmaker for both couples is Don Pedro, Claudio's brother, played by the handsome Peter Rini; he gives his role just the right balance of dignity and playfulness.
Enter the bad guy: Don John, illegitimate brother of Don Pedro, played by Glenn Fleshler, who gives a good amount of disdain for the happy and beautiful.
Don John convinces young Claudio that Hero is being unfaithful, and chaos reigns. Hero is abandoned by almost everyone at the altar where she was to be married to Claudio.
Even her father, Leonato, played by a delightful Michael Santo, scorns her and leaves her, collapsed in a puddle of tears.
Beatrice and Benedick, as well as a good-natured friar played by Edwin C. Owens, stay to console her. The two Bs vow to make things right.
The comedy that ensues includes funny, fast-paced performances by watchmen Daniel Stowell and Marsh Hanson. Hero's gentlewomen, played by Jordan Simmons and Celia Madeoy, are also a vibrant part of the farce (showing Shakespeare's affinity for creating comedy among common men as well as high-class folks).
The true star of this performance is Miss Ziemba. She is commanding in her role, showing her amazing range as Beatrice as she goes from happy to sad and flirtatious to compassionate.
A few steps behind Miss Ziemba in skill and radiance is Mr. Snook. His body language and grimaces are as funny as the lines he delivers, and he shows the kind of stage confidence his role as a womanizer and jester demands.
Both actors show great skill in making the transition from being standoffish to being very much in love with each other.
Enhancing Miss Ziemba's and Mr. Snook's colorful performances are the peppy set design by Riccardo Hernandez and costumes by Catherine Zuber, which include hip-hugging dresses that look particularly festive during what feels like an impromptu Charleston.
The music, directed by Lynne Shankel, plays an important mood-setting role in this production. When things are happy, the music belongs to the jazz age, and when things take a turn for the worse, Shakespeare's near-contemporary J.S. Bach takes over, providing the right kind of solemnity.
Director Mark Lamos does a fine job of bringing out the best in this old, oft-played comedy while adding a few new touches. The casting is fabulous, the idea of bringing musical elements into the mix is innovative, and setting the plot in the '20s is engaging.
This excellent production is not to be missed.

WHAT: "Much Ado About Nothing"
WHERE: The Shakespeare Theatre, 450 Seventh St. NW
WHEN: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. today; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. tomorrow; 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Dec. 23; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays (but no performance Nov. 28); 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 5
TICKETS: $16 to $66
PHONE: 202/547-1122

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