“It takes two to tango,” muses David Vining in his director’s notes for Southwest Shakespeare Company’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Vining seized on the tango vibe for “Much Ado” after realizing how well it matched the Beatrice/Benedick sparring at the heart of the play — which centers on folks who spend entirely too much time trying to trick others, for reasons sometimes malevolent but mostly benign.
Like all of Shakespeare’s works, “Much Ado About Nothing” reveals much about human nature. In this case, it’s the giddiness of man — described by Vining as the tendency “to get our knickers in a twist over the least little thing.” Think Shakespeare meets Sarah Bernhardt. Then thank goodness for Maren Maclean, whose Beatrice rocks the farce with true force and finesse. Her performance elevates this “Much Ado” to one of the finest feasts of Shakespeare I’ve ever tasted.
Vining sets this “Much Ado About Nothing” in 1930s Argentina, noting its many “serendipitous parallels” with Shakespeare’s Messina along the Sicilian coast — the original setting for the play. First, “the passion and sexiness of the tango.” Then similar periods of “political and military unrest.” Both had “a powerful military, an established aristocracy and a clearly defined class system” — plus “the strong presence of Catholicism.”
The flag of Argentina hangs over a balcony at the center of the set, with ivy-laden walls washed in yellow tones. A single bench sits on either side of the stage. The set changes very little over the course of the play, but no matter. It’s lovely, and enhanced every now and then by elements like hanging strings of small white lights. Scenic artist Laura Johnson’s experience with murals shines through. Costume design by Masi Hosler and lighting design by J. Alan Davis is beautiful as well.
There’s a serious sexiness to this production, filled with handsome men in crisp uniforms and gorgeous women in elegant gowns. Still, the tango falls a bit flat — lacking the flair of true tango, and feeling a bit like an afterthought rather than a passionate piece of storytelling. Better to focus on the cast’s command of Shakepearean dialogue, which is delightful. It’s all in the diction — that’s the word shared by “Much Ado” cast members during their opening night talk back after the show.
Several students attended the opening night performance. The house wasn’t quite full but it was full of laughter. Take your teens to see the show. Then ask them to imagine how things might have evolved differently were Beatrice and Benedick, or Hero and Claudio, armed not only with works — but also with Wi-Fi. “Much Ado About Nothing” happens everyday in our offices and schools, via telephone and text message. Time spent watching others get giddy is a fun reminder that reining it in often trumps letting it roll.
Note: Southwest Shakespare Company performs “Much Ado About Nothing” though May 5. Click here for details and ticket information.
Coming up: “American Idiot” opens at ASU Gammage