The great thing about a comedy such as Much Ado About Nothing is its treatment of potential tragedy. There's a lot of thought behind all those laughs.
Shakespeare examined what malicious false witness could do in Othello--how it might turn a good and loving husband into a murderous fool. In Much Ado, he takes the same vicious situation and turns it into a comedy. How is that possible? Because in Much Ado, the community sticks together.
OpenStage Theatre in Fort Collins has produced a lively, likable production of the timeless comedy. Once again lovely Hero escapes disgrace and death via the good offices of kinfolk, priest, soldier and, especially, bumbling policemen who stumble upon the truth and expose the villains--a community hilariously at work to protect its own.
As the story opens, Don Pedro arrives at the home of the brothers Leonato and Antonio of Messina. Don Pedro has just won the local war, and he and his retinue are ready for a relaxing month in the country. Leonato and Antonio both have marriageable daughters. Don Pedro's lieutenant, the handsome Count Claudio, falls madly in love with Hero, and Don Pedro arranges a match. Meanwhile, Antonio's more independent daughter, Beatrice, matches wits with the skeptical Benedick, another of Don Pedro's soldiers. Each gleefully ridicules the other to the amusement of all.
Of course, Benedick really loves Beatrice--just as she loves him. Everyone knows it but them, and so Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato plot to make these "heretics" of love admit it. The bizarre plot to bring Beatrice and Benedick together makes this the most delightful of all of Shakespeare's comedies. Beatrice is as smart and tough as any feminist could wish, and Benedick as reluctant and intense as any bachelor who ever lived. They're both brilliant and capable of true affection, and they deserve each other.
However, Don Pedro's wicked illegitimate brother Don John lives to make others miserable. And to get back at his brother, Don John frames Hero as a slut and gets the gullible Claudio to renounce her publicly. Even her own father believes the story, while Beatrice, the other women and the priest believe Hero.
Shakespeare understood how the world worked. Fortunately for all, the priest prevails on the men to have patience and seek the truth--which the local constable has already discovered. Joy is restored and the miscreants punished.
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The best news about the OpenStage production is Charlie Ferrie's cool, naturalistic reading of Benedick. While he loses a few easy laughs with his straight-man approach, he helps underscore many of the play's serious issues and still retains a darkly witty persona. Judith Allen as Beatrice also goes for principle over hilarity. The two actors suit each other well.
Arthur Espinoza is magnetic as the evil Don John, and Aaron Burns is terrific in the small yet key role of his henchman, Borachio. But most of the best fun comes from Marlin May's bumpkinish Constable Dogberry--whose regular adjustments of his undergarments are so flagrant that you need a shower after watching him.
While David Czapp makes a believable Don Pedro, much of the rest of the cast needs work with Shakespeare; they don't always seem to know what they're trying to convey, or they borrow too heavily from Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film version of the play. Still, OpenStage could have done worse than study that source--and something real and fresh does come through in this production.--Mason
Much Ado About Nothing, through March 23 at the Linclon Center Mini-Theatre, 417 West Magnolia, Fort Collins, 1-970-221-6730.