Monday, September 24, 2012

Giddy Men in Their September Songs

“In brief, since I do purpose to marry, I will think nothing to any purpose that the world can say against it; and therefore never flout at me for what I have said against it; for man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion."
That’s the way Benedick closes Much Ado About Nothing, and also neatly sums up the Guthrie’s most recent expedition into Shakespeare.
Following his traditional method for spicing up Shakespeare, Joe Dowling set this show in the Gilbert & Sullivan era. This time travel strategy often confuses the material it’s supposed to enliven, but this time it works. This vibrant Ado rests comfortably in the lush trappings of the age of decadence.
David Manis (Don Pedro), Daniel Gerroll (Benedick) and Bill McCallum (Claudio) in the Guthrie Theater's production of William Shakespeare's 'Much Ado About Nothing.'

The principals, Beatrice (Irish stage and screen actress Dearbhla Molloy) and Benedick (Daniel Gerroll), interact with each other and the material beautifully. In fact, their appearance and banter is reminiscent of a local Helen Mirren-Geoffrey Rush pairing, a pleasant surprise for any show but especially one with a script that deserves their sparkle and intensity.
In fact, several heavy hitters are out for this show, and the old guard more than holds its end up against the new talent one often expects from the Guthrie. In particular (and separately from the excellent principals), Leonato and Verges, two of the show’s veritable “grumpy old men,” were wonderful.
The younger talent is more disappointing in this production, culminating with a disappointing Claudio (Bill McCallum) whose delivery felt wooden compared to Beatrice and Benedick’s inspired banter.
There were also some consistency issues, particularly with costuming. As lovely as many of the costumes were, at times it was difficult to identify if they were supposed to fit within a specific historical context or theme, or if they were simply fun outfits found in the Guthrie’s extensive costume storage.
The show could also have withstood some judicious editing. Running at almost exactly three hours, otherwise pleasant dance or song interludes became tedious.
This is certainly one of Dowling’s finer efforts in the past few years, and a wonderful way to warm oneself amidst the unexpectedly brisk fall weather. So cozy up, chuckle a bit and remind yourself why live theater is so wonderful.
Much Ado About Nothing continues through Saturday, Nov. 5. Information about tickets to the show and performance dates and times can be found at the Guthrie’s website.