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Laughing at Love 

Shakespeare's screwball romance shimmers at Stan Hywet.

Once summer hits and we're not afraid to go outdoors anymore, there's an irrepressible urge for things that are natural. We opt for the lemonade without high-fructose corn syrup, sirloin without hormone injections, and a cool evening breeze produced by nature and not Freon.

In the realm of theater, it's hard to beat the all-natural punch of Shakespeare at Stan Hywet, set beside a gorgeous lagoon and featuring the talents of Terry Burgler, who is to the Bard what Roy Hobbs is to baseball. This time Burgler, one of the founding artistic directors of the Ohio Shakespeare Festival, is directing and acting in that company's production of Much Ado About Nothing. It's Will's wacky comedy involving lovers who love each other, lovers who hate each other, and lots of folk who want to interfere. And while this production isn't the troupe at its most compelling, there is still an eveningful of enjoyment to be had.

In this romantic dust-up, Claudio falls in love with Hero, but on the eve of their marriage, he's led to believe that his sweetie is exchanging intimate couplets with another fellow. So he does what any headstrong Shakespearean lad does: He dumps her unceremoniously at the altar, causing her to faint and . . . die?

Meanwhile, the acid-tongued confirmed bachelor Benedick is fencing words with lovely Beatrice, Hero's cousin, who's no slouch with a putdown herself. Of course, the impish folks in the court plot to bring oil-and-water Bea and Ben together by arranging for them to overhear others talking about how the one loves the other, and vice versa. These eavesdropping sequences are staged with plenty of accidental headbanging and pratfalls by Burgler.

The tasty roles of Benedick and Beatrice are played with appropriate edge and sass by Jason Marr and Joy Marr. Jason M. unabashedly milks chuckles from his dislike of Beatrice; when the Prince encourages Ben to chat up Bea, he responds: "I will fetch you a toothpicker from the furthest inch of Asia . . . rather than hold three words' conference with this harpy." Joy M. holds her own, her eyes flashing with impudence, but her thin voice tends to screech more than slash in moments of anger.

Andrew Cruse is a solid stalwart turned cad as Claudio, who is finally reunited with the very much alive Hero (Libby Ewing). Prince Don Pedro, the host of all these shenanigans, is played by Doug Hendel with delighted bemusement -- as if his character knows that this is one of Shakespeare's most sparkling comedies.

In one of the comic interludes for which the playwright is famous, director Burgler appears as Dogberry, the master constable. Whipping his ragtag bunch of deputies into shape with a secret salute and indecipherable commands, Burgler once again displays his easy familiarity with this material and his total command of both the meaning and the manic mayhem of Shakespeare's words.

One longs for Terry Burgler to mount a Shakespeare play that he directs and in which he plays all the parts himself. Until then, this Much Ado will certainly do.

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