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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 12, 2006

From Bard's quill to sitcom, 'Ado' a success

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser

"Much Ado About Nothing" stars Elizabeth Wolfe as Beatrice and Joe Abraham as Benedick.

Brad Goda

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'MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING'

Earle Ernst Lab Theatre, UH-Manoa

7:30 p.m. tomorrow-Friday, 3 p.m. Saturday

$18 general, with discounts

550-8457

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Shakespeare's romantic comedy "Much Ado About Nothing," is revived as a television sitcom in the opening production of the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival at the University of Hawai'i's Ernst Earle Lab Theatre.

Can a 400-year-old Elizabethan comedy withstand a blatant style that lacks only a recorded laugh track? Why not?

Directed by R. Kevin Doyle and designed by Johanna Morriss, the production's set immediately signals the 1970s a wall of psychedelic circles towers over a bean-bag chair. The throbbing soundtrack will also make you nostalgic for disco, and dance sequences contribute some of the best parts.

In Doyle's hands, Shakespeare's rather formalized garden party becomes a sexual farce that draws on the hyperactive style of "Three's Company," to enliven a "Seinfeld" landscape where not very much happens.

And Joe Abraham's exaggerated physical performance as Benedick is in the mug-and-grimace tradition of John Ritter and Jerry Lewis.

The juxtaposition of styles works to highlight an adolescent love story featuring two couples propelled by eavesdropping, gossip and jumping to conclusions.

While the plot centers on Claudio (Alvin Chan) and Hero (Noelle Poole), the action goes to Benedick (Abraham) and Beatrice (Elizabeth Wolfe), a bickering couple. A bit with some rustic constables, headed up by Dogberry (Steven Mead) is attached to the plot midway through the play and integrated into the action.

To their credit, the principals and most of the supporting cast are able to handle the dialogue and bring comprehension to the iambic pentameter. Conquering that prerequisite gives them the opportunity to do character work.

Abraham's Benedick is a great deal of fun and begins to open up about a third of the way into the play's three hours. This comes at just the right time to assure us that the cast has mastered its Shakespeare and can start to turn it into real entertainment.

Benedick and Beatrice whale away at each other with articulate speech instead of the physical blows used by that other great Shakespearean mismatch, Kate and Petruchio in "Taming of the Shrew." Can there be any doubt that a couple who detest each other this much won't end up in love?

Wolfe has proved her language skills in previous festivals and makes a fine Beatrice in this one. She keeps the character articulate and intelligent as a woman who's never an airhead but is susceptible to wrongheaded action when bitten by the love bug.

Chan's Claudio is a workable stiff-necked suitor with a weakness for giving in to unpopular rumors, and Poole's Hero mostly gives in to rampant boo-hooing. Mead's Dogberry is a regular chap who thumps around with enough misguided conviction to merit notice and a better part in a subsequent festival.

Savada Gilmore throws a considerable amount of flash and dazzle at the character of Don John (perpetrator of an ugly rumor about Hero) and creates a role where the medium is much more interesting than the message.

This is the second year that the Ernst theater has housed the Shakespeare festival, and again the directors have straitjacketed themselves into traditional proscenium staging. Using a thrust or in-the-round configuration could bring more intimacy and open up new production values.

Perhaps the most successful part of Doyle's staging is the curtain call. Many Shakespearean comedies end with a company dance, and this one is so well done that the audience almost forgets to applaud.