Bravo, Benedick! “Much Ado’s” leading man woos the audience

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“When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.”

In the Wild West town of Messina, you couldn’t ask for a sweeter gal than Hero. Her loud-mouthed, sarcastic cousin Beatrice is more of an acquired taste. When handsome young men arrive, the whole town plays matchmaker, hoping to trick the jokester Benedick into confessing his love for Beatrice—and vice versa.

Nick Manfredi plays Benedick with charm and braggadocio. He squeezes every drop of humor out of Shakespeare’s text, then steals more laughs with his physical comedy. The eavesdropping scene, where Benedick’s friends gossip about Beatrice’s supposed love as Benedick finds ever more ridiculous hiding spots, left the audience rolling.

“Much Ado About Nothing” often plays as a lighthearted battle of the sexes. Director Jane Page deflects some levity here in order to focus on her heroines’ plight. Despite their courage and wit, the ladies remain pawns in a man’s game.

(That said, Beatrice’s stirring “Oh, that I were a man” lament is slightly undercut by the casting of two women as women in men’s roles. If her aunt and the lady sheriff can both pull guns on men, why can’t she?)

Dogberry and her deputies crank the oafishness up to 11, with gravy-thick accents, constant pratfalls and B+ quality clowning. At times, they bulldoze over the written jokes (which, as a Shakespeare fan, will always disappoint me). On the other hand, reinterpreting the villains’ interrogation as a goofy flirting scene for Dogberry found great new jokes in an already funny exchange.

Purists will appreciate the craftsmanship of Leonato, Claudio, Don Pedro, Hero and a surprisingly understated Borachio.

Those who prefer their Shakespeare with a dash of yee-haw! can cheer for Dogberry and Margaret—who delights with her saucy jokes—along with Benedick’s sillier moments.

Additional Notes:
Keep an eye on local actor Alex Williams. His Claudio sneaks up on you.

Seventeen full-price tickets have partially obstructed views (C23, C36-37, D25-26, D41-42, E27-30 and E42-47), so pick your own seat. As of press time, Theatreworks had made no mention of the obstructions on their website, even giving these seats to season ticket-holders at the show I attended.

“Much Ado About Nothing” is a family-friendly romance with mild language and Shakespearean dialogue. Children under age 5 not permitted.

Presented by Theatreworks
July 27 – August 19, 2017

Rock Ledge Ranch
Gateway Rd and 30th St

Admission: $42 Fri-Sat; $35 Tues-Thurs (buy tickets)
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

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