One of Shakespeare’s sunniest, funniest comedies is presented with all due lightness and merriment in a fantastic staging at BYU.
Knowledgeable direction by the venerable Barta Heiner, beautiful and colorful sets by Rory Scanlon, and a handsome cast of fully committed actors make the Bard accessible and — most importantly — jubilantly entertaining.
Melissa Yacktman, cast against type as Beatrice, gives a commanding performance as the sassy, pre-feminist independent woman with the sharp tongue. Beatrice is engaged in a “merry war” with confirmed-bachelor Benedick (James Mack), the two of them constantly sparring, apparently the only two people in the world unaware that they’re actually in love with each other.
To alleviate that, their friends and family conspire to engage in conversation they know will be eavesdropped upon by just the right people, and which will give Beatrice the impression that Benedick is in love with her, and vice versa.
In fact, this fast-paced little romp relies heavily on eavesdropping and spying. The other plot involves Claudio (Dustin Condren), who plans to marry Hero (Michelle Faraone). Claudio’s pal Prince Don Pedro (Neal C. Johnson), however, has an evil brother named Don John (Dax Craven) who wants the marriage to fail. To that end, he arranges it so that Claudio will think Hero has been unfaithful, which leads to a rather messy scene at the altar, punctuated by the rage and disappointment of Hero’s father Leonato (J. Scott Bronson).
The cruelty of Don John’s plans is lightened somewhat by a tone of delightful melodrama in the performances. Dax Craven and his henchmen, played by Christian Sampson and Jonathan Tolman, even have fake sinister laughs they use when they plot, as if to remind the audience that no matter how mean-spirited they are, hey, it’s just a play, all right? And of course it’s all going to turn out fine in the end.
This light-hearted attitude carries throughout the play, stumbling only in the scenes with the guards and the local law enforcement, who learn of Don John’s designs. Where the other performances have been more subtle and smart, these guys are just a little TOO silly, almost self-consciously so.
Aside from that, “Much Ado” never falters, with even supporting roles (like the amazing Richard J. Clifford as an Albert Einstein-coiffed Antonio) played with gusto and great wit, culminating in a finale that is as upbeat and crowd-pleasing as they come.
Quite a jolly play, this. BYU stumbled with "Romeo and Juliet" in 1998, but 1999's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and 2000's "Much Ado About Nothing" suggested they were back on track with the whole Shakespeare thing.
One of my more embarrassing play-going moments came during the first half of this show, when I nodded off for a couple seconds. Now, that in itself is not too embarrassing, because it happens now and then and doesn't last for more than a couple seconds.
What was embarrassing this time was that when I nodded off, my head went backwards and hit the wall behind me, making a thunk. I don't know if anyone heard it, but I did, and it hurt besides. I don't even know why I'm telling you.