By ROY BERKO
Shakespeare, in his comedies, writes of trickery, false accusations, restoration of harmony and romance. He uses lots of double entendre and encourages fun and farce as well as broad performances.
Charles Fee, the Producing Artistic Director of Great Lakes Theatre (GLT), loves nothing more than staging expansive melodrama, farce and slapstick.
As evidenced by Much Ado About Nothing, now on stage at GLT, Shakespeare, as writer, and Fee, as director, are a match made in thespian heaven.
The tale concerns young lovers Hero and Claudio, who are to be married in one week. To pass the time, they conspire to set a lover’s trap for Benedick, an arrogant confirmed bachelor, and Beatrice, his favorite sparring partner.
Evil Don John devises a scheme where one of his lieutenants will make love to Hero’s maid, pretending she is Hero. He takes two of his henchmen to observe the encounter and convinces them the woman is Hero. They spread the rumor of the “infidelity.”
The next day, Claudio disgraces Hero publicly and refuses to marry her because she is no longer chaste. She faints. When she is revived, she is persuaded to pretend she is dead until the situation is sorted out.
Dogberry, a dim-whited warden, accidentally manages to arrest Don John’s henchmen, who confess to the plot.
Claudio is crushed when he learns Hero “died” because of his false accusations. He begs Claudio, her guardian uncle, to punish him. He is told that his penalty is to marry Claudio’s “other” niece. Of course, she is Hero, in disguise. Don John is arrested. Hero and Claudio, as well as Benedick and Beatrice, marry.
In the end, it all turns out to be much ado about nothing.
The tale, is outlandishly enhanced by over-acting, an actor continuously falling down stairs, a woman getting soaked by a water hose, and an eavesdropper hiding behind an ever-moving rose trellis. Ever-present ridiculousness lights up the stage. It’s Fee at his creative best.
The cast is universally excellent. They each understand they are in a Shakespearean comedy and play for believable laughs.
Laura Welsh Berg (Beatrice) and Jeffrey C. Hawkins (Benedick) have “caustic” down pat. They delight as the sparing partners who love and hate in equal proportions.
Kailey Boyle (Hero) and Domonique Champion (Claudio) are charming as the young lovers, split by an evil interloper, but who finally find happiness.
Nick Steen effectively schemes as the nasty Don John.
Joe Wegner was born to play Dogberry, the dim-witted Master Constable. He growls and mumbles with finesse, while M. A. Taylor, his partner, finds every step he encounters to be a device to trip over. He spends most of the production on the ground, suffering from another farcical incident.
The lovely set created by Jeff Herrmann is a perfect setting. Rick Martin’s lighting and Mathew Webb’s sound interludes and music enhance the production. Though much of Alex Jaeger’s costumes are lovely, the fact they jump in style from era to era is confusing.
Much Ado About Nothing (2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission), played March 27 through April 10, 2022 at Great Lakes Theater’s performing space at Hanna Theatere in Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Shakespeare as writer, and Fee, as director, are a perfect match.
Roy Berko is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the Cleveland Critics Circle.