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Robert Viagas says “There’s Much Ado at the Delacorte”

Much Ado About Nothing

By William Shakespeare

Director Kenny Leon fills the Delacorte Theater in Central Park with energy and laughter in his new all-African-American production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, set in the American South in 2020.

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The first of two summer 2019 free Shakespeare in the park productions, Much Ado is the Bard’s story of several crisscrossed love stories that play themselves out at a country estate. Central to the plot is the relationship of Beatrice and Benedick, two sharp-tongued combatants who troll each other with witty insults, when it is clear to everyone around them that they are actually in love. Strategems to trick them into finally avowing their true hearts occupies much of the action of the play.

It’s not easy to steal a Shakespeare production, especially one likeMuch Adothat boasts a half dozen major characters, but The Color Purple Tony nominee and “Orange Is the New Black” TV star Danielle Brooks doesn’t just walk away with the production in the role of Beatrice, she struts away with it, like a princess showing off her crown. She delivers her sick burns with evil delight, making them sound like they’d been invented on the spot rather than 400 years ago. Grantham Coleman is an adorable Benedick, and does his best to keep up with Brooks.

They and the supporting cast deliver the Bard’s lines with wonderful clarity, wisdom and humor. High on the list are Chuck Cooper as Leonato, Billy Eugene Jones as Don Pedro, Tiffany Denise Hobbs as Ursula, and Lateefah Holder as the malaprop-plagued (and gender reversed) police chief Dogberry.

The gallivant across Tony Award-winner Beowulf Boritt’s elegant outdoor country manor set that only gets more beautiful at evening performances as the sun sinks and lights come on in the windows (courtesy of another Tony winner, Peter Kaczorowski).

The program states “Our modern-dress production in set in the near future, 2020, on the eve of the election, in the American South,”  but there is no reference to that premise (except in some of the costuming) anywhere in the show, except for a prominent poster reading “Stacey Abrams 2020” (a reference to the Georgia House minority leader who lost a hard-fought race for governor of that state in 2018). Despite the sign, it’s all backstory that doesn’t change the play’s many references to princes, dukes and other European royalty/nobility. Oddly, given its prominence, poster is never alluded to in the show.

Nevertheless, given its high fun level, this production would make a great first Shakespeare for audiences who may never have tried one before.

Much Ado About Nothing is playing a limited run at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Admission is free.


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