Kirk Blackinton and Liz Tachella Bowman gave hilariously snide performances Friday night in Big Idea Theatre's rendition of William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."
The story revolves around two pairs of lovers whose paths toward and away from love run into unforeseen circumstances. The puppy love of Claudio and Hero hits a tragic roadblock, while the love-hate relationship of Benedick (Blackinton) and Beatrice (Bowman), by the design of their conniving friends, becomes more loving and less hateful.
Directed by BIT company member Katie Chapman, the production has been a project of hers for the past decade. Set in the years between the World Wars, giant propaganda posters sit in the stage background while the cast members perform in cocktail dresses and military fatigues. The script is unedited, save for the removal of lines and one reference to a mustache instead of a beard.
The standout performance of the night was given by Blackinton. The audience edged toward the front of their seats every time he appeared on stage, anticipating whatever scathing reproach — or approval — of marital love his character might conjure. His line delivery was clear, deliberate and varying in tempo. Equal to Benedick's wit is his tongue, and Blackinton released onslaughts of dialogue, stringing sentence after sentence feverishly together, only to pause at the climax of his lines and finish with comic emotion. If the audience was any indication, he stole the show.
In opposition to Benedick — at least in the beginning — is Beatrice, and Bowman matches Blackinton's line-delivery with reciprocating snark. Laying down thick sarcasm is a specialty for the two characters, and where civility is lost, laughter is won.
A late-blooming gift to the audience came at the halfway point in the character of Dogberry (Jes Gonzalez). Playing the haphazard Constable bestowing night-watch responsibilities to whichever miscreants he finds in the street, he flamboyantly acts the part of a clueless lawman, reliably providing hilarity to the very last scene.
The play is not short on comedy, but its humor is balanced against the villainy of Don John (Gian Montesini) and the resulting turmoil between Hero (Heather Judkins), Claudio (Brian Harrower) and Leonato (Gregory Smith). Fallout between independently affable characters is more or less predictable in fiction, and it is little surprise that Don John's evil scheme to keep Hero and Claudio apart would have some ill-effect on their intention to happily wed. Nevertheless, watching Judkins sob in the middle of the stage as both Harrower and Smith deride her for actions of which she is innocent was heart-wrenchingly authentic.
For a full plot synopsis, click here.
Unless fluent in Shakespearean syntax, the dialogue is often difficult to follow, in the beginning. Letting go of occasional jargon lapses is essential for those unfamiliar with his style to enjoy the production. As the play progresses, and as the ear develops to the English of past centuries, plot and character developments seen and heard are easier to comprehend.
Choosing to set the play in the early 20th century is somewhat enigmatic. While the costumes are appropriate and the war posters are present, there isn’t any other indication as to why this story meshed with that part of America's history.
"Much Ado" nevertheless provides two full hours of knee-slapping humor, with only a short-lived side of heartache. It's focus on the merry makes for a lighthearted night at the theater, and given the intimate nature of the Del Paso Boulevard location, the audience can expect no less than full immersion.
This will be the final show of BIT's 2010 season. It runs through Dec. 4. Show times and ticket prices can be seen here.
Photos courtesy of Big Idea Theatre