GRIFFITH PARK—The Independent Shakespeare Company’s second play of the summer, “Much Ado About Nothing,” brought a hearty dose of laughs to Griffith Park’s Old Zoo. The company has been putting on the Free Shakespeare Festival for 12 years, and the expertise of everyone involved in the company shined full-forcefor “Much Ado.”
This beloved Shakespearean comedy takes place in the Mediterranean city of Messina, but the ISC chose to set their production at the end of World War II in a “bomb-riddled villa,” giving it a nostalgic, fun twist. The colorful costumes, designed by Amanda Lee, were excellent, bringing a vivacity to the characters that, in my eyes, excelled the popular 1993 film adaptation of the play (famous for launching Kate Beckinsale’s career). The stage seemed to be built with certain plot points in mind; its frills were minimal, due to the constraints of being outdoors, but set the scene perfectly well with strung up lights, vines, and an old jukebox at the center of the stage that played delightful big band music during celebratory dance numbers.
“Much Ado About Nothing” tells the story of a jovial group of soldiers coming home from battle. They stop to rest at the estate of Leonato (Danny Campbell), whose charming daughter Hero (Danny Brown) quickly becomes the apple of soldier Claudio’s (Erwin Tuazon) eye. Meanwhile, Leonato’s clever niece Beatrice and soldier Benedick have at each other in a battle of wits. The two of them detest the idea of marriage, so the other characters hatch up an entertaining plan to make them fall in love. Predictably, hilarity ensues, but it is of the heartwarming variety. Melissa Chalsma, who plays Beatrice, and David Melville, who plays Benedick, have a realistic and comfortable rapport that makes it easy to get sucked into their bizarre love story. They were endearing, reminiscent of the way that children who like each other hide their feelings with teasing.
There is plenty of audience interaction that makes this production all-immersive. Shakespeare’s plays can sometimes be difficult to follow, especially if you haven’t read the text, but the actors were so adept and expressive that I never felt lost; even the kids in the crowd seemed to be having a great time. The show’s use of music and choreography enhanced the 1940’s theme and brought healthy bursts of energy. I highly recommend this play as a fun and enriching way to end a long, lazy summer day.
Much Ado About Nothing runs Thursday-Sunday at 7 pm until August 30. The following dates have pre-show performances starting at 6: August 14, 15, & 16 (Invertigo Dance Company), August 22 (Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center), August 23 (Pacific Opera Project), and August 30 (Los Angeles Police Concert Band). All performances are free, but donations are accepted. Visit the ISC website for more information.