Stephen Hu and Allison Layman in The Old Globe/University of San Diego Graduate Theatre Program’s “Much Ado About Nothing”

Much Ado About Nothing, Old Globe, San Diego

Written by:
Josh Baxt
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By William Shakespeare
Directed by James Newcomb
The Old Globe Theatre, San Diego
Nov. 9 – 17, 2013

Judging by The Old Globe/University of San Diego Graduate Theatre Program’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” we have a fine group of young actors we’ll be enjoying for many years to come.

Set in Messina, the play revolves around two couples: the loving pair of Claudio (Stephen Hu) and Hero (Allison Layman), and the warring couple of  Beatrice (Meaghan Boeing) and Benedick (Robbie Simpson). Recently returned from the war, Claudio, at Don Pedro’s (Lowell Byers) encouragement, successfully courts Hero. Meanwhile, fellow soldier Benedick expresses his disdain for women in general and Beatrice in particular. She mirrors his hostility.

From there, two separate plots unfold, one to make Benedick and Beatrice fall in love and the other, concocted by Don Pedro’s bastard brother, Don John (Adam Gerber), to sully Hero’s reputation and destroy the marriage before it starts. Mischief both light and dark.

Despite its archaic notion of “reputation,” “Much Ado” is a happy study in crisp repartee with some broad physical humor. For the play to work, Beatrice and Benedick must be firing on all cylinders, and happily they do. Boeing is a particularly saucy Beatrice, taking tremendous joy at each subsequent jibe at Benedick, or anyone else for that matter.

Don John’s  plot is inadvertently unraveled by constable  Dogberry (also Adam Gerber). Again, the play can’t hit any heights without hilarity from Dogberry, the overbearing and undereducated peace officer, and Gerber delivers.

Other highlights include Charlotte Bydwell as Ursula and half of the night watch (inexplicably dressed in nun habits) and Erin Elizabeth Adams as the conflicted Margaret.

The MFA productions are scaled back versions of the Globe’s mainline plays. Still, the garden set is well done, complete with mossy smell. Newcomb’s direction is simple and to the point, and the Dogberry scenes are quite funny, if lacking in nuance. Overall, the young cast does an excellent job from beginning to end.

Josh Baxt

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