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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