Shakespeare’s glorious language rarely gets upstaged, but it almost happened last Saturday night. As Shakespeare Santa Barbara took on a Cuban version of Much Ado About Nothing, the gorgeous Santa Ynez hills, seen from the lawn of Fess Parker’s Winery, did their best to distract the audience from this comedy of subtle arguments and clever retorts, but in vain. With Jackie Apodaca as Beatrice, the quick-witted heroine, and James Bladon as Benedick, her reluctant suitor, the play sparkled in the fading sunlight of a summer evening. Jennifer Casey produced and Jeff Mills directed this updated, Latin American version of the comedy. Their light touch, along with Matt Gourley’s elegant set and Sara Weber’s deft musical direction, fit the beauty of the hills perfectly.
As a whole, the Shakespeare Santa Barbara company had exactly the right combination of clarity and spice for this surprisingly intricate story. The self-deprecating title actually masks a profound question: why does nonsense so often keep us apart? Benedick and his friend Claudio (Adam Mondschein) have just returned from heroic service in the war and obviously need wives. Unfortunately, the jaded Benedick wants to stay a bachelor, and Beatrice, his match in wit and stubbornness, is in no mood to change his mind-yet. Both Claudio and Hero (Brytni Sarpy), his fiancee, already know that their friends are fools to block love’s way. Meanwhile, Don John (Charlie Woods), the cynical bastard prince, plots to harm Hero’s reputation and ruin her wedding. As Hero, Sarpy balances youth with wisdom in her graceful portrayal of the wronged bride. Woods’s Don John adds a sharp edge of nastiness to the proceedings, with his cutting remarks masking terrible bitterness and ingratitude.
A skilled supporting cast gives the young lovers all the help they need, especially Constable Dogberry, who shouts “I am an ass!” so often that we believe him. This malaprop-prone policeman, played hilariously by Brian Weiss, gets it both right and wrong. He really is an ass-a vain, self-important blowhard-but he saves the day by uncovering the evil plot. Even a dope can get things right, and things have a way of righting themselves, if we let them. So, enjoy an evening with Shakespeare in a beautiful setting; what could be better?