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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Delacorte


  Kathryn Meisle, Ismenia Mendes and Lily Rabe/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Can we just jump ahead and sign Hamish Linklater up to play the lead in the next 40 or so seasons of Shakespeare in the Park? True, he might already be a bit long in the tooth for Romeo, but there’s no doubt he could pull it off. He deserves a stab at every last role in the canon, from romantic pup to master manipulator. In Much Ado About Nothing, smartly directed by Jack O’Brien, he gets to be a bit of both.

Ordinarily, characters such as Benedick (Linklater) and Beatrice (a feisty, whiskey-voiced Lily Rabe) would be secondary, on hand to crack wise; instead they hijack the audience’s interest, and with it the show. With his subtly skewed body language and a knack for finding unanticipated meaning between words, Linklater offhandedly steals the spotlight in this stellar production.

In the company of his fellow soldiers, Benedick appears a stalwart fellow, witty but falling well within the normal range. Once “limed” by love (his cohorts plant the notion that Beatrice, his longtime sparring partner, is – contrary to all appearance – sweet on him), Linklater’s Benedick goes all Asperger’s with infatuation. Suddenly socially maladroit, he’s barking orders one minute, monotoning sweet nothings the next. When Benedick vows “I will be horribly in love with her,” the accent is on “horribly.”

The real stumbling block in Shakespeare’s plot is that we’re expected to believe that the young suitor Claudio (Jack Cutmore-Scott, perfectly cast for his dashing looks and built-in blush), having effectively slain his instant-fiancée Hero (insufficiently naïve-seeming Ismenia Mendes) with mistaken accusations of wantonness, would nobly accept an instant-substitute – and, moreover, that Hero’s father Leonato (serviceable John Glover) would proffer a spare while Hero’s heartbroken dead body lies yet warm. (Death/life – Shakespeare enjoyed tossing those cards in the air.) No matter: The characters accept these characterological flip-flops and so must we.

Beatrice does not accept the calumny, however, and Benedick – purely out of new-formed loyalty – must turn on Claudio, hitherto his comrade-in-arms.

O’Brien skips over these vicissitudes lightly, helped along by John Lee Beatty’s sunny Sicilian country villa set (complete with ripening tomatoes) and evocative musical interludes by David Yasbek. It’s a bonus of this production that we get to hear musical-star Brian Stokes Mitchell, as the match-making captain Don Pedro, employ his glorious baritone in a duet of “Sigh No More.” It’s also a relief that John Pankow, playing Dogberry, the pompous constable who invented malapropisms centuries before Sheridan, plays it straight and sincere, instead of clowning it up and straining for laughs.

It’s a lovely, entrancing show. Tempt the odds via lottery or line up in the noonday sun, but don’t miss this summery delight.


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