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Much Ado About Nothing

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Much Ado About Nothing
Through April 25
Orlando Shakespeare Theater
407-447-1700
www.orlandoshakes.org
$22-$38

History tells us that it took awhile for the Allies to get their act together before making considerable and finally successful progress against their Axis enemies on the battlefields of World War II. The same may be said of Orlando Shakespeare Theater's current production of the Bard's romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing, which has been set by director Dennis Lee Delaney in the countryside of post—World War II Italy. This production starts off flat-footed, but ultimately finds its marching shoes and emerges as a victorious parade of high comedy, subtle wit and ferocious wordplay.

While it may be somewhat unusual to hear the voice of Bing Crosby crooning under the scene changes of a Shakespeare play, Delaney's choice of time and place is as pitch-perfect as the singing of actor Andrew Knight who, as the servant Balthazar, delights us with the Act 1 song based on the poem with the line "Hey, nonny, nonny." (The song was written by Michael Andrew and is backed up by a quartet of 1940s-style singers who sound as authentic as the 78 rpm disks in musical archives.)

Once again the Shakes offers up an ensemble of utterly competent and articulate veteran performers, including Steven Patterson as Don Pedro, Joe Vincent as Leonato and Chris Mixon as Dogberry. These actors imbue their characters with intelligence, passion and, when necessary, the appropriate measure of buffoonery. In fact, the entire cast is as close to perfect as any I have seen of late.

Much Ado's dramatic and romantic tensions largely depend upon the actions and motivations of its main pair of lovers, Benedick and Beatrice. So the success of the play naturally falls upon the shoulders of the performers who inhabit these two pivotal roles, and it is safe to say that in Darren Bridgett and Marni Penning, director Delaney has found two generals capable of leading their troops to a well-deserved triumph. Both actors have a way of making dialogue eminently understandable, their inner desires succinct and revealing, and their conflicts both personal and universal. And while Bridgett can utilize his entire rubbery body to convey his emotional turmoil, Penning can do the same with a tilt of her head or the widening of an eye.

Much Ado is not a play "about nothing." In this delightful rendition, the comedy proves to be an affectionate treatise on romantic love and humanity's eternal desire to pick up the pieces of broken relationships and battered dreams.

arts@orlandoweekly.com

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