—Jennifer Lines and John Murphy as Beatrice & Benedick in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, at Bard on the Beach 2010. Photo: David Cooper
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Bard’s opening show this year is one of Shakespeare’s B-comedies. Famous for the witty banter of reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick, Much Ado really hasn’t got all that much more going for it, though Jennifer Lines and John Murphy as B & B carry it a pretty long way.
The plot is both conventional and ridiculous: the villainous half-brother of the Prince resolves to frame the virtuous bride-to-be, daughter of Messina’s governor, as a whore; and father, groom and Prince all fall for his lame trick much too easily. Meanwhile, the friends of love-cynics Benedick and Beatrice decide to trick those two into admitting their love for each other. That works out a lot better. The low comedy—bumbling malapropist Constable Dogberry and his goofy watch—is middling funny, and only middling successful in Dean Paul Gibson’s production.
Lines has become Bard’s undisputed star, as indicated by her casting in both this year’s mainstage shows (she’s Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra). And as usual, she doesn’t disappoint. Set in what looks like 1920s Spain, Gibson’s production opens with Lines doing a few minutes of flamenco, establishing her powerful presence. She’s an ideal Beatrice—witty, flirtatious, self-possessed, intelligent, and ferocious when need be. After her cousin Hero (Almeera Jiwa) has been rejected at the altar by husband-to-be Claudio (Gaelan Beatty) because of the machinations of evil Don John (Parnelli Parnes), Beatrice asks Benedick to prove his love to her by killing his friend Claudio. When he hesitates, she says, “O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace.” Lines’ performance makes you believe that she really would. And when the inevitable comic shift takes place, she transforms into the weak-kneed, vulnerable lover with equal conviction.
John Murphy is one of this city’s up and coming stars—a multiple threat as actor, playwright, and director. It’s a tribute to Christopher Gaze’s acuity that Bard is the first company to give him a starring role. With his wonderfully rich voice Murphy is a very funny Benedick, employing some masterful deadpan timing to elicit laughs. Relatively subtle even when lovestruck, Murphy’s Benedick is an excellent match for Lines’ formidable Beatrice. They make a couple you really want to root for.
The marvelous Simon Bradbury works hard at making his Dogberry funny, including a dangerous-looking running stair-tripping gag that has the audience laughing nervously. Playing the character as a ridiculous, self-important officer of the Home Guard, he uses an English accent so thick that I lost half his words and hence much of the comedy. I’m betting he’ll relax into a clearer, funnier rhythm as the run progresses. Gerry Mackay, as Leonato, also offers some strong work but his anger at his daughter’s apparent whoring on the eve of her wedding was way over the top at the performance I saw—probably more opening night adrenalin as well.
Some of Mara Gottler’s Spanish costumes, especially the women’s, are spectacular, and Drew Facey’s handsome set provides more interesting details than usual on Bard’s open stage.