- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

In the Folger Theatre’s handsome and affecting new production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” director Nick Hutchinson has moved the play’s setting from Italy to an English manor house immediately following World War II. In James Kronzer’s supple set, sandbags are still piled in front of the manse’s portico, and the household is in a flurry of casting off the austere trappings of wartime.

The well-to-do family of Leonato (Timmy Ray James) decides to entertain a group of American officers, led by Don Pedro (James Denvil), in grand style. Leonato throws open the doors of his fancy house to his guests, urging them to stay as long as they like, and his hospitality extends to offering his daughter, Hero (Tiffany Fillmore), in marriage to the smitten GI, Claudio (Dean Alai).

The innocent, googly-eyed young love of Hero and Claudio contrasts sharply with that of an older couple, Leonato’s quipster niece Beatrice (Kate Eastwood Norris) and the jaunty airman Benedict (P.J. Sosko), who profess to detest one another when the play begins. “This is a dish I love not,” Benedict says. These calloused, tart-tongued sparring partners wouldn’t recognize love if they tripped over it.

Don Pedro and Leonato play Cupid once again, plotting to bring Beatrice and Benedict together — perhaps for no other reason than no one else could possibly stand them. They live by zingy wordplay, and deceive themselves that they are on top of things because their cleverness is so acute. When serious charges against Hero threaten the marriage, Benedict and Beatrice cannot, for once, hide behind words. They must take action, and in so doing, they belatedly discover the passion they’ve never known.

“Much Ado About Nothing” is one of Shakespeare’s most effortlessly witty plays, especially in the verbal jousting between Beatrice and Benedict on the fear, loathing and mistrust between the sexes. Even the most insipid productions of the play are often saved by the romantic comedy repartee of the warring couple.

Mr. Hutchinson takes a more unorthodox approach, discarding the cliche that Beatrice and Benedict have always had a crush on each other and that it was just a matter of time before wedding bells rang. Here, theirs is a darker journey, from heartbreak and stubborn defensiveness to the discovery that perhaps they are not as brittle as they imagined.

As Beatrice, Miss Norris is shrewd and sophisticated, with a laser-like intelligence that does not suffer fools gladly. When she yields, it is delicious, the sudden openness delighting and terrifying her.

Mr. Sosko’s ingratiating Benedict plays the cocky flyboy to the hilt, the offhand breeziness hiding a gulping fear of commitment. Together, they make a dandy pair, his bantam strutting a comic contrast to her demure unbending from on high.

For a play that relies so richly on wordplay, ironically, some exceptional comic moments in this production come from the character of Dogberry (Jim Zidar), a village sentry who mangles the English language. His immortal line, “Masters, remember that I am an ass, though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass,” was delivered with such blustery authority that it brought the house down.

Mr. Hutchinson’s astute direction also confronts head-on the evil intentions of Don John (Jim Jorgensen, superbly playing a character so dour that his idea of a merry costume is a gas mask) and Don Pedro and Claudio’s blithe acceptance of his charges against Hero. In his “Much Ado About Nothing,” there is a lingering seriousness behind the abundant laughter, as if to say that marriage is not a state of unending peace and contentment, but a fragile truce between the sexes.


WHAT: “Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare

WHERE: Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE, Washington

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Nov. 27.

TICKETS: $30 to $49

PHONE: 202/544-7077




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