Tuesday, May 29, 2012
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Special to TorSun
29 MAY 2012
Pictured: Deborah Hay, Ben Carlson
STRATFORD — Much has been made of the casting of real-life husband and wife, Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay, as Benedick and Beatrice in the Shakespearean offering that launched the 60th season of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. And happily that particular piece of casting in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING doesn’t live up to the title of the production that launched the season here on the Festival stage Monday night. In fact, Carlson and Hay, both one-time regulars at the Shaw Festival, sparkle in a Stratford production helmed by Christopher Newton, erstwhile artistic director of the Shaw, returning here to Southern Ontario’s other Festival after an absence of more than 40 years.
That sparkle is, in fact, the main attraction in a production that often takes wing but just as often fails to soar, relying perhaps too heavily on the charm and acting prowess of the four lovers — young Claudio (Tyrone Savage) and his sweet Hero (Bethany Jillard), who fall into love with too much ease, and the aforementioned Beatrice and Benedick, who have to be all but driven to it — at the heart of Shakespeare’s tale.
To bring it to life, Newton first uproots the work from Italian soil and sets it down in Brazil near the turn of the last century, and though designer Santo Loquasto makes the most of this transcontinental tango, neither the era nor Loquasto’s design add many new wrinkles to a timeless plot. The former allows for a few sultry dance scenes, and the latter simply affords yet another chance for an otherwise brilliant designer to demonstrate his contempt for Stratford’s unique thrust stage. While the entire production basks in the glow of Robert Thomson’s lighting, Jonathan Monro’s music and Jane Johanson’s choreography add life.
Otherwise, Newton’s production is pretty straightforward, rising and falling on the strength of individual performances. While the two aforementioned sets of lovers do a fine job of bringing both Shakespeare’s text and tale to life — Carlson, commanding as always opposite Hay’s array of almost too-mannered comedic ticks, both offset by the youthful passions of Savage and Jillard — they are not always well-served by their supporting cast. As Don Pedro, in whose army both Benedick and Claudio serve, Juan Chioran gives a touching, human turn, but in the two-dimensional role of his bastard brother, Don John, Gareth Potter stops just shy of pulling wings off flies to establish street cred as Brazil’s most conniving dude.
Meanwhile, as Leonato, father to Hero and uncle to Beatrice, veteran James Blendick adds yet another over-embroidered performance to his resumé and Richard Binsley blessedly undersells his performance as the misspoken Dogberry — a boon, at least to those of us rarely amused by this particular buffoon. Keith Dinicol has some lovely comedic moments of rage as Antonio, while Michael Blake lends some heft to the villainy of Borachio, without crossing over into the clichéd melodrama that informs Potter’s performance.
Through it all, Newton keeps a firm eye on text and narrative, only occasionally letting things drag as he struggles to accommodate Loquasto’s main folly — a huge stairway that dominates the stage and, at least, provides Hay with a location for the best laugh of the evening. In the final analysis, this may not be a MUCH ADO for the ages, but it is an ADO that will certainly do for today.