Perfect summer play

Posted June 28, 2024

Muchado2024 web2

Anya Van Wagtendonk, Isthmus

After Claudio finds out he's successfully landed the beautiful Hero, partway through the quintessentially Shakespearean comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, he is, briefly, stunned. "Silence is the perfectest herald of joy," he says.

Thank goodness that phrase wasn't the guiding force behind the version of the comedy now mounted on American Players Theatre's outdoor stage (and running through Sept. 29). Instead, this raucous, musical production offers big laughs, big feelings and loud joy.

There's so much plot to this classic that it almost doesn't matter, but, in essence, it's a series of sort-of interwoven schemes. A scheme to get Hero to love Claudio. One to get Benedick and Beatrice to quit their bickering and fall in love. To get Claudio to spurn Hero. Then to avenge the spurning.

There are also many of the other classic Shakespeare set-ups: weddings, various swapped identities, a faked death, and a farcical little group of clowns, plus, in this version, sweet musical numbers and breakout dance routines.

If any of that sounds confusing or overmuch, don't worry — this is not a subtle work. Each scheme is explained in advance. Then we watch the scheme unfold, usually hilariously, sometimes heartbreakingly. Then a character comes out and reminds us of what we just saw. It's a crowd-pleaser meant for the masses — and what an absolute pleasure this production is.

For starters, there's the actual setting, which old hats at APT may feel no need to comment upon. But it was this critic's first time Up The Hill, and to describe the experience as magic is an understatement. The set design by Josafath Reynoso is sort of tacky Mediterranean — like if Myrtle Beach were on the Amalfi coast; colorful, pirate-inflected costumes are by Daniele Tyler Mathews.

The ensemble cast is excellent to a person, balancing absurd physical comedy and, in some moments, real tenderness and connection. Benedick and Beatrice, as sparring partners who are clearly obsessed with each other, is one of the great pairings in theater, and Marcus Truschinski and Jessica Ko nail the will-they-won't-they-but-obviously-they-will with real affection.

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