Sparring pair steal the show
While it’s a good production overall, with many memorable moments, Wilcox and Scoggins consistently steal the show as sparring Beatrice and Benedick. As the comedy opens, the two characters parry and thrust with Shakespeare’s sword-sharp words — instantly establishing that they’re made for each other, although they don’t yet know it. It’s fun to watch from first insult to final tender endearment, also delivered as an insult.
Beatrice is the niece of Leonato (Norm Tognazzini), a man of means in Messina, here a frontier town in the American West just after the Civil War. Benedick is one of the soldiers who marches into Messina with his regiment, led by Don Pedro (Richard Pratt) and his brother, Don John (Lane Baldoni).
As soon as they arrive, Benedick’s buddy Claudio (Seth Mayhew) spots Leonato’s comely daughter, sweet and innocent Hero (Skylar Wolfe). Instantly smitten, he asks his commander, Don Pedro, to arrange for them to be married.
Everything is lovely until Don John sets out to spoil things. With help from Borachio (RJay Carey, who does a good job in a subdued, serious role), it’s shockingly easy.
Side note: As you watch the play, consider how different the accusation, and Hero’s reaction, would be in modern times. Anyone vote for Hero and her family to kick Claudio out?
In Shakespeare’s version, circa 1,600, things work out, the villains get their comeuppance and vows are said. And along the way, we meet Dogberry and his sidekick, Verges, who, in Gallery’s version of “Much Ado About Nothing,” become the funniest sheriff and deputy since Andy and Barney.
Kevin Hamler-Dupras makes a lanky, good ol’ boy of a Dogberry; Rolan Cranford’s Verges is all simpering and foolish — he could be called “Puppyberry.” The two actors work together marvelously. Unseen, Hamler-Dupras also plays guitar during the show, a nice touch.
Director Chris Benham made a good move choosing the time and place for this version of “Much Ado About Nothing.” The set really does set the scene, immediately transporting the audience to the American West in the 19th century. The sturdy timbers and balcony also establish that Leonato is a man of substance.
The costumes evoke the period, as well. The women’s gowns are beautiful.
I like the Civil War-era uniforms, or at least the idea of them. But some are ill-fitting. I suppose that could indicate that this is a ragtag bunch of soldiers, but it seems more like a cohesive unit that would take more pride in its dress.
The extra sound also was a welcome addition — Hamler-Dupras’ guitar, birdsong and the pre-show music, a mixture of pastoral tunes and Civil War patriotism.