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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 1 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 44
Love wins out - Seattle Shakespeare Co. jazzes up a romantic comedy classic
Arts & Entertainment
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Love wins out - Seattle Shakespeare Co. jazzes up a romantic comedy classic

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
SEATTLE SHAKESPEARE COMPANY
Through November 17


Seattle Shakespeare Company's newest production, Much Ado About Nothing, lends itself to creative reinvention. It's one of Shakespeare's most accessible plays, with clearly delineated characters and, at least for the Bard, a straightforward plot. Director George Mount (who is also the company's artistic director) has chosen 1953 - not 1952 or 1958, mind you - to play with the setting, costume, and tone.

The setting of 1953 is very successful for this play. In that era, virginity was prized and cheating was totally frowned upon, so those plot points translate with incredible accuracy from the 1600s to today. In addition, Mount incorporates the talents of the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, a partner for this year with special grant monies, and its artistic head, Michael Brockman, who composed special songs for this play and leads the orchestra in recordings. So, this upscale company full of dukes and highly decorated officers can party with live jazz singing (by the multitalented Justin Huertas).

The costuming, in particular, by Doris Black, immediately helps us recognize the date, from the retro bathing suits in the first scene to the crisp whites of the soldiers in dress uniform. An outdoor patio adjacent to a sea of boat masts, by Craig B. Wollam, is a gorgeous visual that also cements the opulence of the setting.

A synopsis of the play is included in the program, if you like to know ahead of time what you're going to see, but the primary fun is the relationship between sharp-tongued, independent Beatrice (Jennifer Lee Taylor) and marriage-averse, pompous Benedick (Matt Shimkus), who seem to despise each other. They both loudly proclaim that they hate the idea of marriage for themselves, though everyone else can do what they like.

Of course, everyone else longs for them to fall in line and fall in love, so family and friends conspire to trick them into loving each other. Of course, they succeed. It's a comedy.

EVIL PLAN THWARTED
The virginity and cheating are a subplot where the Duke's jealous brother, the clearly 'bad guy' Don John (Nick Rempel), decides to wreck the happiness of a junior officer beloved of the Duke, Claudio (Jay Myers), and host Leonato's (Peter A. Jacobs) daughter Hero (Brenda Joyner), by tricking them into thinking Hero is cheating on Claudio and is not a virgin. With the help of the local constabulary, headed by David Quicksall, the would-be foilers are caught.

Mount succeeds admirably in several areas: the pairing of Taylor and Shimkus could not be better, as they spar beautifully with each other. Leads including Jim Gall, Bill Higham, and Jacobs fulfill their roles with panache, and Jacobs, as a wounded father, manages quick changes of emotion with full believability. An updating of the constables to include two females with two males works perfectly. However, the execution of those jokes, especially Quicksall's Dogberry, is way too heavy-handed, slow and unfunny. That's a shame, since it could be a highlight of the delight of the script.

Still, there are some good laughs in this well-done production, and you can safely take the entire family to enjoy it. For more information, go to www.seattleshakespeare.org or call (206) 733-8222.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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