The play opens on a typical small town American front porch decorated in banners of red, white and blue, with the women and other family members eagerly awaiting the return of their soldiers. Enter the princely Don Pedro and his courtly entourage—the noble and straight-laced Claudio and his more boisterous and seemingly chauvinistic companion, Benedick; Don Pedro’s menacing bastard brother, John; and John’s manipulative companions, Borachio and Conrade. It’s love at first sight when naval officer Claudio sets eyes on the fair Hero, whom he immediately desires to possess as his wife. In contrast, contentious debate ensues between Benedick and Hero’s wittier cousin, Beatrice, who has quite decidedly forsaken marriage as a principle.
The parties reunite for a masquerade ball later that evening, where Don Pedro asks for and wins over Hero for Claudio, and whereupon their nuptials are immediately planned. Looking to play the spoil sport is Don John, who connives with Borachio and Conrade to sabotage the happy couple by masterminding a plot to expose her supposed “infidelity.” More deceptions are in the works as Don Pedro and Claudio conspire with Hero and her handmaidens to trick Benedick and Beatrice into declarations of love. The idle gossip leads to treachery and heartbreak, but suffice it to say that in this particular Shakespearean work, love’s labour is not lost.
Emily Green, a 2008 nominee for the Inland Theater League Awards for her role as Badger in the Wind and the Willows, plays a very self-sufficient Beatrice. Green’s Beatrice is a study in modern feminism—mentally tough, independent, yet comfortable in her own skin and intensely loyal. Andrew Monroe renders a wonderfully comedic turn as the adversarial but tender-hearted Benedick. While Laurel McAllister and Jonathon Meader make sweet music with Hero and Claudio, it is the verbal banter between Monroe and Green that becomes the highlight of the production, coming pretty darn close to emulating the magic of Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. Garret Replogle, unfortunately, steals the thunder from Monroe and Green with his slapstick, over-the-top portrayal of Dogberry, the inept and ultra militaristic air warden. Although appreciative of the main characters’ performances, the audience seemed more enamored of Dogberry’s asinine behavior, which is a real shame.
Shakespeare’s plays have always had more power when performed to a live audience. Miller couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate context in which to relive Shakespeare’s ideas. In less adept hands, this could have been a disaster. In Miller’s hands, Much Ado About Nothing manages to remain true to its roots while keeping it fresh for young and old.
Much Ado About Nothing plays through Aug. 22 at the Corona Civic Theater, 815 W. 6th Street, Corona, (951) 279-2298, www.catcorona.org. Tickets $11-$13 presale, $13-$15 at the door.