Much Ado About Nothing: Old Globe/USD Graduate Theatre Program

Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre

1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park

Shakespeare loves to build a scene or a state of mind, then flip it, in a heartbeat, to its opposite. In the olden days, this was called a volte face — an about face — where everything gets spun around.

The Bard’s most famous is in The Winter’s Tale, which the Old Globe will stage next year. King Leontes goes from zero to 200 without shifting gears, and blasts his faithful wife with hellfire. I’ve never read an adequate explanation for his vein-bulging outburst.

Another great one’s in Much Ado. Naïve Claudio is about to marry chaste Hero. Comedies usually end here. It’s that moment at a wedding when all the preparations have come together, the bride and groom face each other, and everyone can exhale, “finally.”

This scene’s the highlight of the USD/Old Globe Grad. Program’s production.

Director James Newcomb begins with a stately processional. Ladies in waiting, in Elisa Benzoni’s ethereal costumes, dapple the stage with large white petals. The men arrive, soldiers in full dress blues, and dark-feathered helmets. And everyone settles in.

But Claudio goes off script. He shouts “no.” He accuses Hero of infidelity. Everyone in attendance goes so cold blank negative it’s as if doubt had lurked there all along.

When he hears about the conflict, the Prince shouts, “O day untowardly turned.” That’s Much Ado, which “untowardly” turns throughout like a spinning coin.

Robbie Simpson and Meaghan Boeing head the cast as Benedick and Beatrice, as witty in their anti-courtship as Petrucchio and Kate are blunt in Shrew.

Beatrice and Benedick vow to love “no more than reason” – yikes, what an adult concept! Simpson and Boeing modulate so gracefully into that mature view, their characters might succeed after all.

As poor Hero, Allison Layman is achingly innocent; her volte face at the altar’s so crushing one wonders how Hero won’t be psychologically damaged for life.

Though some in the cast tend to rush their lines, Tyler Kent’s wise Friar and Lindsay Brill's adamant Antonia, ring true. And Lowell Byers is a well-spoken Don Pedro, victorious over his brother, the admittedly evil Don John, and defeated in his silent campaign for the heart of Beatrice.

Adam Gerber does impressive double duty; he spins the coin throughout, in fact, with a believably vile Don John — terse, frigid, exuding hatred — in one scene, then pretentious, gravely goofy, and very funny as Dogberry, an Italian take on Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, in another.

The director has encouraged an Italian flavor throughout: snippets of the language to set the stage, flying wine glasses and cameos of gelato, and Sean Fanning’s sun-baked, golden marble courtyard, framed by flowers in bloom.

A gypsy-like Megan M. Storti acts as a guide. She sings beautifully and, right at the beginning, shows us how to follow the play by pointing to her eye.

Elizabethan historians say that “nothing” and “noting” had the same pronunciation. “Noting” meant more than just watching on autopilot. It meant looking closer, seeing through externals, and “taking note” of a person’s inner character.

The only one who does it is the Friar. He sees through the starts and spins of popular opinion. If he didn’t the much ado would have ended far otherwise.

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