Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Scenic designer Alexander Dodge has packed the vast Sidney Harman Hall stage with eye-filling, gadget-heavy effects, primarily in the busy Washington studio of SNN (Shakespeare News Network). Leonato (Edward Gero) oversees the newsroom, while Beatrice (Kate Jennings Grant) is the co-anchor and Hero (Nicole King) covers sports. Swashbuckling reporter Benedick (Rick Holmes), who had been Beatrice's co-anchor, returns to the studio with their corporate boss, Don Pedro (Carlo Albán), and new staff meteorologist Claudio (Paul Deo Jr.). Don John (Justin Adams), Don Pedro's loser brother (first seen delivering coffee to the on-air talent), finds a way to disrupt the harmony he sees around him.
To keep the Shakespearean newsroom vibe going, Godwin has given Beatrice and Benedick several "headline" one-liners within their usual bickering, related to, for example, the confused royal succession in Denmark and the apparent deforestation of Scotland's Birnam Wood. (And since this is Washington, the audience sees video of Beatrice during Benedick's absence with an interim co-host, a face familiar from real-life cable news.)
Grant and Holmes are ideally matched as intelligent, self-aware people who both know exactly how to irritate the other, so their trip into first infatuation, then mature love is full of fizzy moments. They both demonstrate a talent for slapstick as Benedick slinks to the floor, hiding behind a sofa and a potted plant, to eavesdrop on his friends, and Beatrice finds a convenient, if not comfortable, place to hide in a parallel situation.
King is charming and guileless as Hero, while Deo makes clear that Claudio swallows Don John's lies because of his fundamental belief that everyone is as sincere as he is. (Similarly, Adams plays Don John as less a menace than an embarrassment to the corporate family.) Other standouts are Gero, whose genial nature gives way to fearsome rage; Dave Quay as Dogberry, head of SNN security and enemy of plain speech; Nehassaiu deGannes as a member of the clergy; and Raven Lorraine in two small roles.
Other fun business includes a corporate masquerade party with designer Evie Gurney's dead-on representations of everything from Babe Ruth's Yankees uniform to 1960s-retro Batman and Robin costumes; a dance interlude with Lorraine singing Shakespeare's lyrics to a disco tune; and strong support from Donald Holder's lighting design, Fan Zhang's sound design, and Aaron Rhyne's projection design.
Much Ado About Nothing runs through December 11, 2022, at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.
By William Shakespeare