To Wit

Much Ado About Nothing, presented by PCPA. At Solving Festival Theatre, Friday, September 1. Shows through September 17.

Reviewed by Felicia M. Tomasko

It is enticing to be told that someone is madly, deeply, uncontrollably in love with you. In order to play matchmaker and entwine the hearts of sworn bachelor Benedick and sharp-witted bachelorette Beatrice, their friends and family conspire by strategically dropping hints about the way each pines away for the other. The humor in Much Ado About Nothing frequently hinges on their war of words, the witty repartee that stings like arrows shot back and forth. Amid their fighting and falling in love, Shakespeare interweaves a tale of villainy, deceit, jealousy, and redemption in the courtship and marriage of Benedick’s friend Claudio and Beatrice’s cousin Hero.

PCPA’s production of Much Ado sets the story in the 1840s on the Central Coast. The set’s mission-style architecture, central fountain (complete with running water), sand-colored tile, and Spanish costumes add a local texture and more contemporary feel to the story Shakespeare originally set in Sicily. The production’s music is evocative of the era, but the recording made me long for live music.

The actors create a play that is delightful to watch. Andrew Philpot skillfully and humorously contorts the English language as Dogberry, the competently incompetent supervisor of the night watchman. Kathleen Mary Mulligan as Beatrice and Peter S. Hadres as Benedick are especially funny in their scenes that combine physical and verbal comedy while they eavesdrop in gardens and on balconies. Together their wordplay sizzles.

Katie Worley shines as the hapless Hero. She is scorned and then loved by the jealous suitor Claudio (Tobias Shaw). These characters are written more as stereotypes than complex personalities, giving the actors little to work with onstage. Mauricio Mendoza plays Don Pedro with a strong presence and a sense of sympathy befitting a prince. Joseph Foss is conniving as Pedro’s brother, the villainous Don John, but could be more convincing. Michael Tremblay’s Leonato is at first stately, and then heart-wrenching when he initially disbelieves his daughter’s innocence.

Love triumphs in this play, making it unlike tragedies such as Othello, in which jealousy leads to death. This Much Ado is full of laughter, redemption, and true love — all wonderful things to find around a fountain on a Central Coast summer’s evening.

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