Benedick (Hamish Linklater) and Beatrice (Lily Rabe) engage in a stirring battle of words in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (photo by Joan Marcus)
Tuesday - Sunday through July 6, free, 8:30
At the beginning of Jack O’Brien’s delightfully witty take on Much Ado About Nothing, the voice of Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis makes the usual announcements about rules concerning photography, cell phones, et al., mystifying members of the cast, who look around curiously, wondering where those sounds are coming from. That joke sets the stage for a playful evening that delves into the nature of love, romance, honor, and fidelity. In turn-of-the-twentieth-century Sicily, Don Pedro (Brian Stokes Mitchell) and his army stop by for a break at the home of Messina governor Leonato (John Glover). While soldier Claudio (Jack Cutmore-Scott) falls instantly in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero (Ismenia Mendes), Leonato’s niece, Beatrice (Lily Rabe), engages in a heated battle of the sexes with soldier Benedick (Hamish Linklater), the words flying back and forth like an intimate swordfight. But when Don Pedro’s rascal of a brother, Don John (Pedro Pascal), who doesn’t believe in true love, purposely gets in the way, everyone’s loyalty is put to a severe test.
Hero (Ismenia Mendes) and Claudio (Jack Cutmore-Scott) contemplate a future together in new MUCH ADO in Central Park (photo by Joan Marcus)
Much Ado has been a Shakespeare in the Park favorite for more than forty years, previously featuring the all-star Benedick-Beatrice pairings of Sam Waterston and Kathleen Widdoes in 1972, Kevin Kline and Blythe Danner in 1988, and Jimmy Smits and Kristen Johnston in 2004. It takes a while for the heat to rise between Linklater (The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night) and Rabe (As You Like It, Steel Magnolias), who previously appeared together in Seminar and the Al Pacino-led Merchant of Venice that moved from the Delacorte to Broadway; Rabe is a firecracker from the start, but Linklater’s clownish approach didn’t start working until some brilliant ad-libbing following a second-act rain delay the night we saw the show. The production is anchored by an expert performance by Glover, mixing elegance with sly humor, along with solid support from a steadfast Stokes Mitchell, a doe-eyed Mendes, a cartoonish John Pankow as local constable Dogberry, and Zoë Winters as alluring lady-in-waiting Margaret. Original music by David Yazbek adds to the fun, as does John Lee Beatty’s set, which includes a vegetable garden, a balcony, and a magic wall; costume designer Jane Greenwood’s dresses for the women are much stronger than the more mundane clothing for the men. Three-time Tony winner O’Brien’s (The Coast of Utopia, Hairspray) Shakespeare in the Park debut is a light and frothy evening that is a whole lot more than nothing.
(In addition to waiting on line at the Delacorte to get free tickets, you can also enter the daily virtual ticketing lottery online here.)