×

Off Broadway Review: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at Shakespeare in the Park

Stars Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater take time to click, but the music and the set design make magic in this outdoor production.

With:
John Glover; Ismenia Mendes; Lily Rabe; Brian Stokes Mitchell; Hamish Linklater; Jack Cutmore-Scott; Austin Durant; John Pankow.

All those giddy young lovers in Shakespeare’s pastoral comedies have a regrettable tendency to blur into one another.  Except, of course, for Beatrice and Benedick, that quick-witted, quarrelsome pair in “Much Ado About Nothing.” Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater, favorites with Gotham auds, would seem ideally cast (by helmer Jack O’Brien) as those squabbling lovers, in the summer’s first Public Theater production of Shakespeare in the Park. Strange to say, this perfect romance begins on an awkward note, not really clicking until deep into the second act — just in time to restore our faith in these enchanting lovers.

It’s tempting to credit this restorative power to a creative team with the singular expertise it takes to turn an outdoor stage into a magical place.

John Lee Beatty’s storybook setting for the Sicilian province of Messina is like a childhood memory of Grandma and Grandpa’s big old house in the country. Bathed in the warmth of Jeff Croiter’s lighting design, this lovely villa has a sun-washed stone facade set off by tall, gracefully arched windows, and is bordered by a lush garden with fruit-bearing trees and colorful vegetables that are forever in season.  All this, plus balconies and terraces where a trio of musicians periodically assemble to serenade guests with charming folk songs composed by David Yazbek.

Leonato is governor of this pretty kingdom, and in this enviable role, John Glover is the very model of an honorable authority figure — patrician profile, lustrous silver hair, formal black suit with snowy white linen. (Nods to costumer Jane Greenwood and wigmaker Tom Watson for their character-enhancing contributions.)  And when he speaks, it’s the voice of wisdom.

Leonato’s household — his amiable older brother, Antonio (David Manis), his virginal daughter Hero (Ismenia Mendes), his free-spirited niece Beatrice (Rabe) and their saucy servants — seems a bit too eager to seize on the broad comic style of opera buffa   But everyone springs smartly to life when the noble Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, arrives in the person of (how lucky can we get!) Brian Stokes Mitchell. Cue the musicians and let the singing begin.

Without much ado, the lovely Hero and the equally lovely Claudio (Jack Cutmore-Scott), a young soldier in the service of the Prince, fall instantly in love and make plans to marry.  Although the cruel sabotaging of this union serves as a major plot point, the young lovers are such insipid characters that we’re happily distracted by the musicianship of Steel Burkhardt, the vocalizing of Mitchell and John Pankow’s inspired comic turn as Dogberry, the self-important, language-mangling Constable of the watch.

As for romance, we’d much rather follow the “merry war” between those sophisticates Beatrice and Benedick (Linklater), who are constantly engaged in outdoing one another in “a skirmish of wits.”  But alarm bells rather than fireworks go off when this Benedick first bounds onstage to engage his Beatrice in romantic banter.

Slender and boyish to begin with, Linklater is further diminished by a little-toy-soldier costume, a ridiculous full-face beard and an adolescent comic attitude.  But if his Benedick doesn’t exactly live up to the romantic soldier-scholar of tradition, Rabe’s rather gauche Beatrice is much too blustery for the slyly seductive “Lady Disdain” and her sexually provocative teasing.

Both thesps are masters at the art of elocution, however, and their relief is almost palpable when they can finally drop the juvenile banter and get serious.  Having been duped by their friends into falling in love, Beatrice and Benedick are free at last to analyze their true feelings and to decide that, yes, they really are ideal mates. It was an awfully long time coming, but in the end the match was made — and it was magic.

Popular on Variety

Off Broadway Review: 'Much Ado About Nothing' at Shakespeare in the Park

Delacorte Theater; 1800 seats; free. Opened June 16, 2014. Reviewed June 12. Running time: TWO HOURS, 50 MIN.

Production: A Public Theater presentation of a Shakespeare in the Park production of a play in two acts by William Shakespeare.

Creative: Directed by Jack O'Brien. Set, John Lee Beatty; costumes, Jane Greenwood; lighting, Jeff Croiter; sound, Acme Sound Partners; composer, David Yazbek; hair & wigs, Tom Watson; music conductor; Nathan Koci; production stage manager, Chris De Camillis.

Cast: John Glover; Ismenia Mendes; Lily Rabe; Brian Stokes Mitchell; Hamish Linklater; Jack Cutmore-Scott; Austin Durant; John Pankow.

More Legit

  • David-Alan-Grier-Blair-Underwood

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood to Star in 'A Soldier's Play' on Broadway

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood will star in a Broadway production of Pulitzer-Prize winning drama “A Soldier’s Play.” The play, written by Charles Fuller, is set in 1944 and follows a murder mystery centered around the death of black Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (played by Grier) who is found on a Louisiana army base. [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Announces Broadway Cast

    After an Olivier-winning run in London, “The Inheritance” is gearing up for its Broadway debut. The two-part epic has set the cast for its transfer from the West End to the Great White Way. John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller are among the cast members reprising their roles [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Announces 2020 National Tour

    ‘Hadestown’, the eight-time Tony award winning Broadway musical, is set for a national tour in 2020. The show will stop in more than 30 cities including Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and more. The musical is a stage adaptation of the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Listen: Why Jake Gyllenhaal Is His 'Best Self' in the Theater

    Looking for the best possible version of Jake Gyllenhaal? You’ll find it onstage, according to the actor himself. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I am my best self when I’m working in the theater,” Gyllenhaal said on the latest episode Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, on which he appeared with Carrie Cracknell, the director of [...]

  • Photo: Jeremy Daniel

    'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Gets Broadway Run

    “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is Broadway bound. The musical adaptation of the franchise about a teenager who discovers he’s the son of Poseidon hits the Great White Way on Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 16 opening night. It comes on the heels of an extensive, nationwide tour that took the show [...]

  • Tom Sturridge Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Celebrate 'Sea Wall/A Life' With Star-Studded Opening Night

    A star-studded audience looked on as Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge returned to the stage for their double monologue performance in “Sea Wall/A Life.” Theater-goers and celebs including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hiddleston and John Mulaney gathered in Manhattan’s Hudson Theatre for opening night, celebrating a show tackling grief, birth and death through the eyes of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content