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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: June ::
*Ado* in DC
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 364.  Friday, 11 June 1993.
 
From:           Todd Lidht <LIDHT@GUVM>
Date:           Thursday, 10 Jun 93  09:52:31 EDT
Subject:        *Ado* in DC
 
Well, much talk has been made about Branaugh's movie version of *Ado*,
and I am still waiting to see it; however, I thought I would pass along
some thoughts about the stage version presented at the Carter Barron
Amphitheater in Washington, DC.  This version is directed by Michael
Kahn, who also directed the *Hamlet* which the Folger Institute group
reviewed in Lois Potter's PERFORM package. (Hardy can make sense of that
last statement, I believe.)
 
David Birney as Benedick is remarkable, a delight on an otherwise average
stage. Caitlin O'Connell as Beatrice is passable, but not nearly as funny
or entertaining as Birney. Many of the supporting characters are played
weakly, but for a show that charges no admission, it is a remarkably good
production.
 
The set, a realistic Italian villa and courtyard, is an excellent back-
drop, allowing for quick entrances and exits as well as "distance
learning" (i.e., eavesdropping). The lighting is well done, though
some technical problems caused abrupt darkness on portions of the set.
(I should mention that I watched the play under a severe thunderstorm
warning, and there was a fifteen minute rain delay.) Costuming was of
a mixed sort, with the ladies dressed in late 1800s-style and the men
in 1920s uniforms and suits. However, the juxtaposition of periods was
not very noticable.
 
Overall, I felt the play was well directed. A good assortment of
characters could be found at any given time, but some serious questions
arose. First is character of Claudio. Mark Philpot, an ex-soap opera
actor, provides what can be best described as a weak performance in a
potentially pivotal role. His never-changing delivery (I overheard one
audience member say, "Doug Winer," a la Saturday Night Live) made for
a tedious time, especially when he was expected to put more than two
sentences together. Unfortunately, he was matched with an actress not
much more gifted than he: Lisa Gay Hamilton as Hero. Nowhere was this
more evident than in the two "duping" scenes (when the Prince, Leonato
and Claudio conspire to trick Benedick into thinking Beatrice is woefully
in love with him and Hero and her maids do the same to Beatrice).
 
Birney makes this scene the funniest in the entire play, full of cheap
gags and pratfalls, but wonderful just the same. After being watered,
disinfected, and chopped at with pruning shears, Birney affects a
bewildered, decidedly "unproud" manner, bringing the audience to tears.
He interacts with the audience directly, and eventually has us all
cheering him on. The only grimaces in this scene came when Philpot spoke,
even for the briefest of moments. His conspiratorial tone could be
exchanged for his melancholy tone, his angry tone, his happy tone, his
sorrowful tone, etc, without anyone taking notice.
 
On the strength of this scene comes a wholly unbalanced parallel scene.
O'Connell actually makes this scene as good as it is. The same
sense of play between the Prince and Leonato is gone from the exchanges
between Hero and her maids; lines are forced, and Hamilton sounded as if
she was reading from the script, not speaking the dialogue. The scene
generates nothing but token chuckles from the audience and is, overall,
a disappointment, especially in comparison to the excellently done
previous scene with Benedick.
 
I cannot help but find some fault with the directing in this. The "gags"
of the first scene, all believable in context, are nonexistent in the
second scene, almost as if there were a conscious decision not to devote
any time to finding the humor in the scene. However, even had the
director taken a stronger hand, I fear the quality of actors would still
have hampered the Beatrice scene.
 
Birney's only rival on the stage is Floyd King, a regular on the Folger
stage. King's Dogberry is a broad as a barge, but twenty times funnier.
He managed to bring out memories of the gravediggers, of Touchtone (whom
King played last year at the Carter Barron), and even of Falstaff (though
not as intelligent) while keeping the "country bumpkin" charm of the
character. King's flawless delivery (as well as the excellent dialogue!)
makes for some of the most uproarious bits in the show. King's all-too-
brief twenty minutes on the stage are worth the trip.
 
Again, however, it is Birney who carries the show and makes the
production a remarkable success.  For those of us hard-pressed to
attend the amount of theater we would like due to the rising cost, it
is heartening to know that good, quality theater can be seen for free.
The actors, designers and director spared no expense; this was not a
"scaled-down" version of the original. I have seen full-blown
Broadway shows which lacked the energy and atmosphere of this show.
 
In the end, I found myself quite pleased that I had taken the time to
go. The amphitheater is in a lovely park area, perfect for picnicking
before the show. The Carter Barron also offers educational workshops
and sign interpreters, so anyone can enjoy the show and learn more about
theater at the same time.  All in all, a tremendous resource for theater
and a wonderful show for those of us who still enjoy seeing a rollicking
Shakespeare comedy.
 

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