The Folger Shakespeare Theater’s production of Much Ado About Nothing takes a more serious and dramatic approach in spite of the play’s light title. The stage is set just at the close of World War II on a British estate. Brits and Yanks, jubilant with the peace, set about finding love, in the case of Claudio and Hero, or avoiding it, in the case of Benedict and Beatrice.
The two love stories are on delightfully different levels, the wooing of Hero quick and painless, the wooing of Beatrice long and arduous. In the most entertaining scene, the Prince, Claudio and Hero’s father plot to entangle the sworn bachelor Benedict with the independent Beatrice.
The entertainment is hinted in the title, as Much Ado About Nothing would have apparently been pronounced much ado about noting in Shakespeare’s day, and who notices what is the source of great mirth for both characters and audience. The physical acting complements the humor of the written lines, rather than overshadowing it.
The play takes a dark turn when Claudio and Hero are about to be married and the clearly-up-to-no-good Don John plots to destroy the union. The series of events mirrors the plot of Romeo and Juliet, without the emotional involvement and with the promise of a happy ending.
The dark designs of Don John are uncovered by the terrific and bumbling civic guards. Jim Zidar’s Dogberry is a perfect bombastic and blustering Brit; his guards are just as inept and yet hilariously manage to foil the dastardly plot.
Benedict and Beatrice’s exchanges are well played. Benedict, ever in jest, does not realize he is regarded only as a jester. P.J. Sosko exuberantly plays the part of Benedict. Kate Eastwood Norris plays Beatrice as a strong and independent woman who has made her way through life by her wits. Norris plays this undaunted woman well and is a refreshing foil to the virtuous virgins guided by their father’s will.
As all the plots wind to their ends, Hero and Claudio reunite and Benedict and Beatrice finally profess mutual love. The villains admit their villainy and submit for punishment. The ends are neatly tied, trimmed and polished – and then it’s back to the revelry.