'Much Ado' provides a delightful treat

by Shialing Kwa | 5/8/98 5:00am

Satin capri pants, Chumbawumba and Tibetan monks probably don't spring to mind when you think of a classic Shakespeare comedy. However, director Mara Sabinson pulls these and other elements together in "Much Ado About Nothing," the most entertaining mainstage production of this year.

The story is set in the Mediterranean port city of Messina, a place which seems to be the playground of Italy's rich and famous. Victorious troops led by Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, return from their military campaign and are invited to stay at the luxurious villa of Leonato (James Rice), one of the richest and most powerful men of the city.

The combination of spoiled, beautiful young women, brash young officers, a villainous bastard of a brother and two moronic peasants leads to a series of intrigues during this month of "R and R." There are two plots to follow in this play. Don Pedro (Patrick Burleigh '01) devises the comic plot to bring together Benedick and Beatrice (Tercelin Kirtley '98 and Brenda Withers '00), two quarreling would-be lovebirds who resemble countless feuding couples such as Hepburn and Tracy or Sam and Diane.

The other plot is the tragic one, concocted by Don Pedro's spiteful brother Don John (Aaron Lisman '98). He attempts to ruin everyone's happiness by manipulating Claudio (Matt Gordon '98), one of Don Pedro's officers, into slandering his innocent bride on their wedding day.

This play succeeds on several levels, the first of which is the look and feel of the production. The costume design, by Drama Professor Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili and Jennifer Moeller '98, evokes the decadence, leisure and hipness of this wealthy crowd. The beautiful women wear glamorous sunglasses, shiny capri pants and slinky slip dresses which look as though they were taken straight from the pages of "Vogue."

The set design, also by Alexi-Meskhishvili, adds to the contemporary air with simple geometric shapes and bold splashes of blue, red and gold. The use of long, translucent blue curtains which flow down from above is particularly effective in a scene in which two characters intentionally allow a third character to eavesdrop on their conversation. The actors glide back and forth between the curtains, their silhouettes revealing every emotion and reaction against the pale blue of the drapes.

Though these atmospheric aspects are crucial to the play, they are not at its core. What makes this play a hit is the highly exaggerated, well-timed comic acting of its main characters. These actors definitely know how to make much ado about everything.

Gordon's sudden outbursts and leg slappings were over the top, and Kirtley's wild gestures and manic facial expressions began to approach Jim Carrey status at times. However, Kirtley creates a charming, not too obnoxious Benedick, a man who proudly eschews the chains of marriage in favor of eternal bachelorhood. He meets his match in Beatrice, an outspoken, sharp-tongued woman who has a retort for every remark. Withers is perfect in this role, and the chemistry between her and Kirtley in each scene keeps the audience hoping for more.

Comedy of a different sort comes in the form of two peasant watchmen who, along with a constable and his sidekick, form a Four Stooges act. The slow-witted Watchman #2 (Karl Polifka '01) had me, and the rest of the audience, in hysterics for a full minute as he tried to get a bag slung across his shoulder. However, the slapstick became tedious at times because it slowed the pacing of the plot.

The play lasts for over three hours, and though the first half seemed to fly by, the second half began to drag a little as the play took on its more serious tone. However, the last scene of the play recovers the initial momentum and ends on an upbeat note, literally.

If for no other reason, come see this play to watch Dean Steve Cornish in the role of Leonato's brother Antonio. You get to see him act drunk and try to start a fight with a handkerchief. But seriously, this production, perfect for the spring term with its often lighthearted frivolity, is sure to entertain.