Much Ado, seen

… well in continuation with yesterday’s post, now that I’ve actually
seen “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Santa Monica tennis courts last night – I can say it was the usual mix of good, bad and okay performances but as many of the good included the leads: Bennedick and Beatrice (Bridget Flanery, perf. again on Sunday), the Prince, Antonio and especially the father Leonato (particularly after his daughter is accused of sexual perfidy…quite moving). I don’t have the program with me so unfortunately, I can’t credit all of these actors properly. So, it’s worth seeing just because of them, and of course, it’s pay what you can so the price is right for everybody.

The director’s concept was a grab bag of contemporary anachronisms – the women wear tennis outfits, the men fatigues… at one point Benedick comes out in roller skates… the show stops often for choreographed movements to a soundtrack ranging from techno to classical to big band jazz. There are clever, even inspired aspects to all of this, but it’s also very unevenly executed (both technically and performatively), so there are painful, bizarre pr boring moments alternating with very entertaining ones.

In other words, I liked the energy and the idea of the production more than the totality of the production. Too many of the ideas felt so arbitrary. In fairness, this morning I had a more positive feeling about the production as a whole.

After all, the play itself is far more problematic and not the summer lark that it is often ascribed to be. There are wild variations of tone that don’t jibe with well with our modern sensibility. In a way, the “problem plays” (Measure for Measure, Pericles, etc.) are most easily solved by treating them essentially as dramas not comedies. But what of “Much Ado”? This production just added even more wild tonal swings and arbitrary actions in a shotgun attempt at creating comedy when the play itself isn’t being very funny at all, or perhaps is just being more quietly witty than knockabout farcical.

So, the flaws of that approach actually inspired me to want to try to tackle this play and direct a production… I’ve already come up with staging and scenic ideas… and alternate ways the scenes should have been interpreted. I don’t recoil from the arrogance of the word “should” since some scenes really have one way that they can be played if they are to work within the play as a whole.

That’s not to say there can’t be multiple wiggles within that “one way” but sometimes certain things just have to be accomplished so the final arc for the particular character or even the entire play makes sense.