With Spring Green's American Players Theatre back in swing, it must truly be summer. During last Saturday's opening night of Much Ado About Nothing, the weather was sultry, the foliage was lush and love was in the air - or at least on stage - in Shakespeare's comedy of romance, dueling wits and deception.
The impediments lovers face on their way to the altar provide the intrigue in Shakespeare's tale. In the case of Claudio and Hero, a dirty trick convinces Claudio that his beloved is not the faithful virgin she claims to be. As for Beatrice and Benedick, two of Shakespeare's most beloved characters, it is their stubborn natures and cynical view of love that threaten to keep them apart.
Beatrice's jaundiced take on love and marriage makes her seem like a surprisingly contemporary character - perhaps the distant ancestor of Samantha Jones and all feisty, independent women not sure that lifelong partnership is for them. With her low, bell-clear voice and direct manner, APT veteran Tracy Michelle Arnold is well cast as Beatrice. She handles deftly the light verbal sparring with Benedick, yet also brings real drama to her most fiery scene, as she lusts for vengeance against those who have unfairly ruined Hero's reputation.
As Benedick, APT newcomer Ted Deasy has the welcome gift of making Shakespeare's dialogue, written more than 400 years ago, sound natural and nearly colloquial. There's a smooth, effortless quality to his work. And Deasy's tall stature also sets the stage for some physical gags when he's near the more compact Jim DeVita, here playing Don Pedro.
Although he doesn't spend that much time on stage, Michael Gotch, as the underhanded Don John - who ignites the plot to ruin Claudio and Hero's wedding - is an unlikely scene stealer. His fey combination of coldness and camp has a touch of evil - Dr. Evil, that is. At first, his delivery seems a little distracting, even surprising - didn't director Kenneth Albers tell him to rein it in a bit? But the more I saw of Gotch, the more I enjoyed his quirky take on Don John and looked forward to his reappearance on stage. He gives the show a jolt of irreverent humor even as his character is the most morally bankrupt.
As Hero, the striking Leah Dutchin, a member of APT's new Apprentice Company, is also noteworthy in a role that swings between hopeful innocence and emotional devastation.
APT's production values don't disappoint, with truly lovely costumes, especially for the women - all luscious, summery colors and full, swingy skirts. In the play's second half, once the sun had set and the stage was lit with artificial light, the costumes and set fairly glowed, creating a luminous slice of Italy in the Wisconsin woods.