The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1831 Monday, 23 July 2001
Date: Friday, 20 Jul 2001 09:31:40 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Much Ado and Coriolanus at CSF
Thought listmembers in the Cleveland/Akron area might be interested in
attending one of the two last weekends of the festival, which has
garnered high praise (and criticism) once again this season. For more
info, you can visit the website at:
'Much Ado' full of belly laughs
by Carolyn Jack
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Could it be that Shakespeare was the Kaufman and Hart of his day? Well,
let scholars bite their bibliographies in outrage: Lisa Ortenzi has
proved the hypothesis.
At least with "Much Ado About Nothing." To Shakespeare's romantic comedy
- normally a high-spirited but elegant joust of wit and sexual want -
director Ortenzi has added some down-home dottiness that turns her
production into "Much Ado About What You Can't Take with You," with all
the quirky kinfolk, hangers-on and stray aristocrats a Broadway creative
team could dare to dream up.
The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival show that opened Friday outdoors at
the Shaker Heights Colonnade offers a real challenge to those familiar
with the play: Can they accept a loutish, beer-drinking bubba as
Benedick and a stout, good-time gal with the voice of a fishwife as
Beatrice in place of the clever, comely lovers we usually see?
Though Ortenzi presents viewers with a multiethnic cast of actors
playing characters who are in many cases related by blood and fills
several male roles with female performers, it is the portrayals of
Benedick and Beatrice that force the audience to reconsider its
Hollywood-fed assumptions about the way fictional people should look.
There's no denying that it's a jolt to see Nick Koesters' Benedick stand
up in his sleeveless undershirt and army pants with his gut stuck out,
declaiming in a voice that has a lot more Mur-freesboro in it than
Messina. Or to hear Jodi Lee Maile, dressed in a short black dress with
big pink flowers on it, let out a screeching laugh as Beatrice that
makes her sound as if she should be taking an order for ham and grits
with a pencil she'd had stuck behind her ear.
They both might seem more at home making candy and fireworks in the
Sycamore house of the Kaufman/Hart comedy.
But what helps convince the doubtful is the undeniable fact that they
are funny. Maile, Koesters and their colleagues create, from material
that is usually just droll, a "Much Ado" of belly laughs.
The serious moments work, too, fortunately. In the play's subplot about
a second pair of young lovers, Hero (Kari Kandel) and Claudio (Jay Kim),
whose reverie is viciously ruptured by treachery, Ortenzi effectively
gets at the horror of the disaster by contrasting Kandel's cool, demure
delicacy with Kim's hot rashness. She is a dainty vessel he seems to
break in his anguished rage as if she were a teacup.
Their distress sobers up the rest of the characters, but not for long.
Koesters' Benedick is soon punctuating his own out-of-character
rhapsodies over Beatrice with a surprised and devastatingly funny
"Oooh," as if he's been sucker-punched. Hero's uncle, Antonio (John
Fleming), begins practically singing and ballet-dancing his lines in an
orgy of Edmund Kean-style elocution. Kelly Elliot and Allen Branstein
play dumb and dumber as security officers Verges and Dogberry, with
Derek Koger as an evil dumbest, a perpetrator of dirty tricks who makes
his entrance singing Steve Miller's "The Joker": "...Some call me the
gangster of love...."
Ortenzi's show percolates with inventive business and unexpected angles
on traditional situations, giving onlookers the fresh, accessible view
of Shakespeare that is possible only when his plays fall into skilled
hands. Easily grasped, this "Much Ado" is true pocket Shakespeare, one
you can - and want - to take with you.
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