Much Ado About Nothing (Review)

More than love is needed in Cincy Shakes' season-opener

There are two unlikely pairings in Cincinnati Shakespeare’s 1960s-flavored Much Ado About Nothing. First is the romance between Beatrice and Benedick, competing wits whose friends trick them into realizing they’re perfect for each other. That match-up triumphs here just as it should, thanks to a playful and well-paced performance by Bruce Cromer, as Shakespeare’s most determined bachelor, and solid if sometimes shrill work from Sherman Fracher, as his hostile leading lady. These Bickersons deserve each other — delightfully.

Still more audacious is director Drew Fracher’s attempt to marry this well-mannered comedy — one whose dialogue is dominated by matters of birth, rank and parental authority, and whose plot hinges on a bride’s alleged promiscuity before her wedding day — with the acid-tinged, free-love vibe of a hippie commune. The wrongheaded concept, flawed further by anachronistic gaffes in the soundtrack and the actors’ wardrobes (pick a year like 1968 and you’d better get it right), distracts us from what would otherwise be a smart, enjoyable play about two different couples finding happiness via circuitous routes.

The youngsters, Claudio and Hero (Ian Bond and Sara Clark), are threatened by a conspiracy that calls the girl’s virginity into question. Needless to say, everything works out in the end — no thanks to the local authorities, especially Andy Gaukel’s hilariously inept Dogberry.

Much Ado isn’t one of Shakespeare’s greatest hits, but it works, as proven by a winsome 1993 film adaptation by Kenneth Branagh and by other live productions. The script, vaguely set in an Italianate province after the peaceful resolution of a civil uprising, suits any number of periods and places — except, perhaps, the one courted here. Matthew Lewis Johnson’s groovy set and an inspired party scene, with echoes of Laugh-In, certainly have us rooting for this relationship. But sometimes love isn’t all you need.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, has been extended through Oct. 2. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.

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