Wednesday, January 18, 2006

MUCH ADO ABOUT a play

Have you ever wondered what Shakespeare crossed with a cheeky splash of THE AVENGERS would produce? I found out last night when I saw a preview of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at the La Jolla Playhouse.

As most of you know, I've been going to the Playhouse for years. (There's even a review of the last play I attended, THE MISER, in this blog's archives.) They present a real range of shows, from musicals to experimental theater to works from the masters. MUCH ADO is a Shakespeare comedy (even though it does have some dark moments)--it's a wild, fast-paced romp based on misunderstandings and mechanations. It features two of Shakespeare's most enjoyable characters, IMHO--Beatrice and Benedick, who are crazy in love with each other but are too proud to admit it. Thus, these two motormouths fight whenever they meet. They're the two popular witty kids in junior high who have no idea how to handle what they're feeling so they take it out on the guy/girl whom they like. Yeah, that's about the level of my emotional maturity, too, so you see why I have a soft spot for this pair. Anyway, everyone who's hanging out decides to lure Beatrice and Benedick into admitting their love for each other. That's the fun plot. The counterplot, though, disturbs me, because it involves the mental beat down of an innocent girl named Hero. (Her fiance, Claudio, assumes that she was with another man on the eve of their wedding, but what he really saw was merely a cruel ruse perpetuated by the play's villain, Don John. Claudio then visciously rejects her at the altar, and it's ugly. Bleh. But they do live happily ever after since this is a comedy, so don't worry. But that doesn't mean I like Claudio. Jerk.)

I've seen MUCH ADO performed before, in a pretty traditional manner--the type of 1500's costumes you'd expect, etc. I've also seen the movie version with Kenneth Brannagh and Emma Thompson--that one's set in Tuscany, I believe, and spotlights Keanu Reeves as Don John. (Very interesting casting choice. I'll leave it at that.) But I never, ever, in my life thought I'd see a version with the characters dressed up and acting like spies. It's a very clever conceit cooked up by the Aquila Theater Company, who came into the Playhouse for a limited engagement. The translation makes perfect sense and actually heightens everything that makes this play work. The plot revolves around misinterpretations of what the characters think they see, and there are many secret meetings and fake-outs. It's ALIAS except nobody dies and comes back to life again and again! Oh, wait, Hero does.

It is ALIAS!!!

If you get down to San Diego, I recommend this production. It's a lot of fun with the cat suits, little British car driving around the stage, and music inspired by THE SAINT and James Bond.

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