Bitchy Actress

New York, Acting, and Attitude: Believe These Stories Or Don't - But I Betcha They're True.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Shakespeare Must Be Pleased: Much Ado About Nothing at Theatre Row

Let me start off by saying that I was seeing this play as a favor for a friend. She is not in the show, but asked that I go see it to support people she knows and works with. She knows that I have seen so many productions of this fabulous comedy by Shakespeare that I told myself I would wait another decade before going again; that, or perhaps unless it was done by midgets in drag in Transylvania - anything to make it unique.

That said - I had a MARVELOUS time seeing Oberon Theatre Ensemble's production of Much Ado in the Beckett theatre at the Theatre Row complex. It was fresh, entertaining, funny, and heart-warming. From the very beginning of the show until the end, although I knew what was going to to happen from the number of times I've seen - and even performed - the show myself, I was still with most of the actors every step of the way.

Mark Karafin has artfully taken a production, which in my opinion is done to DEATH, and breathed life into it again. Stand-out performances include Benedick (Mac Brydon), Don Pedro (Walter Brandes), Verges (Bill Green), Dogberry (Brad Fryman), Hero (Cotton Wright) and Beatrice (Elizabeth Zins).

Brydon's work was simply amazing. There is really no other way to put it. He was natural in everything he did - made an already lovably frustrating character into such an adorably "in love" man - who also is as serious as a heart attack when he decides to take Beatrice up on challenging Claudio and putting both him and Don Pedro in their place. During the scene when he is being set up for the bait to fall for Beatrice, his almost Chevy-Chase/John Ritter-like physicality was reminiscent of the simple beauty of Dudley Moore hiding behind the flowers in the chapel in "10" - hilarious, believable, entertaining and FUN. I wondered how much was found in improv and moved into staging...because it seemed so natural, yet not... Because so many productions forget that this is a play to have FUN with - and hats off to director Karafin for giving the actors the green light to run with the fun.

Brandes was true in his work and a joy to watch. His ending, the small aspect of sadness in the joy of everyone else working out while he is still alone was poignant and lovely, in contrast to the light-hearted simplicity he gave his character - who was also easy to hate briefly as a co-conspirator to Hero's downfall. Green reminded me of a young Peter Sellers as Verges - and even as the Friar - and his ability to go back and forth was admirable. The glasses on Verges were...genius.

Complimenting him was Fryman's Dogberry, a role that can either be a joy to watch or painful. It was SUCH a joy to go along on the ride with this inept character and Fryman, much to our delight, made the most out of reminding us that he was an ass - and we loved every moment. I think this year is a great year for Fryman - he seems to have grown in the last year as an actor, as visible in this play and the other Oberon play in rep that he is also cast in (American Rapture).

Wright and Zins were lovely in their own right. I especially enjoyed Wright's gentle sadness accepting her fate and dealing with her disgrace. Zins was entertaining many times throughout the play, working the Shakespearean witty banter well; however, for some reason I had trouble buying her love for never really worked for me as much as I would have liked - but I was willing to go along for the ride because I believed his for her.

One major problem I had was the choice for Claudio. From the moment you are in the lobby looking at this young man's headshot you have to wonder if he is trying to market himself as the next possible vampire for the next installment of Twilight - and then when he was on stage I just felt that although he obviously had a mastery of the dialogue, there was nothing behind it. The choices that were made were not filled. The character is one that has to have a sense of humility to him, because after everything he puts Hero through, the audience still has to like him afterwards...and I didn't feel that he was played with any true humility...just he seemed more a frat boy than a young soldier in love. I didn't believe him before any of the chapel scene happened, and when she took him back at the end of the play, I wanted to smack her and ask why him? Indeed Brown is an attractive young actor, but I did not believe his character at all.

The same can be said for Borachio - I feel that that character could have been played more simply and truthfully...allowing the audience to really see what his character is all about. He is more complex than just a drunkard womanizer - and that is all we got to see.

That said - and it could be because I simply always thought that Claudio was a bastard anyway - I was not affected by my love for this production. I'm delighted that I saw it for all the wonderful performances in the show. If you see a Shakespeare production this winter, I suggest you make it this one.


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