“Much Ado About Nothing,” Pioneer Theatre Company, through March 8, $25-$44, 801-581-6961 or pioneertheatre.org
Pioneer Theatre Company’s “Much Ado About Nothing” is so effervescent and infectiously enjoyable that it very nearly snaps, crackles and pops.
The company illuminates Shakespeare’s brilliant comedic repartee while commendably balancing the more serious reflections on honor and shame.
The on-again, off-again love affair between Beatrice and Benedick (delightfully played by Rebecca Watson and T. Ryder Smith) sizzles. It reminds why some consider “Much Ado” the precursor to the romantic screwball comedies of the 1930s. The sworn enemies who spar eagerly each time they meet and swear they will never fall in love have parallels, for example, in the Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert characters in “It Happened One Night.”
What makes “Much Ado” fascinatingly unique is that it’s both comedy and tragedy. The enfolding comedy of the Beatrice-Benedick story is set against a darker one of younger love between Claudio and Hero (Terrell Donnell Sledge and Ashley Wickett, both excellent). Hero is wrongly accused of being unchaste and nearly brought to death, and their relationship is threatened by the machinations of Don John (a malicious Christopher DuVal).
The diabolical plotting of Don John and his henchmen is uncovered by the buffoonish civil servant Dogberry and his “men.” These scenes find counterparts in movies featuring the Keystone Kops.
And spoiler alert: The story ends with happy marriages — and no deaths!
As he envisioned, the immensely talented Matt August has made Shakespeare cool.
Through his sprightly direction, the audience is easily engaged in the story, but he keeps the atmosphere from becoming so jovial that it would detract from the sadder, more poignant aspects.
This production’s appeal undeniably stems from its performances, where the director focuses his strongest attention. Yet Elizabeth Caitlin Ward’s whimsical costumes and James Noone’s scenic design subtly suggesting a spider web make it a visual treat, too. There are multiple vibrant shades from peacock blue to a delicate celery green seen in the Elizabethan pageantry-inspired wardrobe that is embellished with silver and gold accents, then layered with animal pelts.
As noted, the acting is universally strong. Deserving mention is Max Robinson’s carefree delivery of Dogberry’s malapropisms. And his casting of youth actors, Mia Bagley, Zoe Heiden and Brigham Inkley, as the bumbling Night Watchmen adds to the gaiety.
“Much Ado” is an excellent introduction to Shakespeare’s work because its joyful comedy makes the play so accessible. Both Shakespeare veterans and Shakespeare amateurs will delight in this expert PTC production.