Much Ado about Nothing, presented by the East L.A. Classic Theatre in the outdoor Ford Amphitheatre, was adapted, becoming a mid-1800s play set in California. So why most of the women, including Beatrice, played by Susan Marie Keller, had southern twangs in their accents is a mystery.
The cast was multicultural but portrayed as essentialist: You could tell which one was Gringo by how they lovingly they pronounced with dedicated Spanglish; You could tell which one was definitely ?Latin? by the occasional Spanish outbursts ,similar to Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy; You could tell which one was black, because, well, the actor did indeed look black, not brown or brownly black, just black black.
The play starts with Claudio, played by Roberto Alcaraz who also played Cesar Chavez in the musical Cesar and Ruben, wanting to marry the beautiful Hero played by Denise Bradley. They are engaged, but the real fun starts when Benedict and Beatrice, a man and woman whom we all have known to appear to be hateful towards each other, are to be wed. Minor characters who know Beatrice and those who know Benedict scheme to get the arguing man and woman together. Think of the times when your best friend had a steady boyfriend and your best friend wanted you to go out with her boyfriend?s best friend.
It was clear that actor Richie Marin was perfect for the role of Benedict. He can play the prideful bachelor who at first detests the sharp-tongued Beatrice. He had the best moments trying to pronounce the words: the L-word and the M-word. For commitment-phobic bachelors, those are ?lllllllove? and ?mmmmmarriage.?
The audience clearly loved the way he would suddenly but smoothly change from the arrogant Benedict to the leg-stroking, seductively reclining flirt, being fooled that the woman loves him, really. I appreciated the detailed action of how his character came from jumping the stage, to hiding near the audience and grabbing his dropped sword with enough ferocity and disgust towards Claudio after he insulted Hero, which caused Beatrice to be upset for her cousin, which caused Benedict to be mad at Claudio. He is one of the few cast members who can effectively bring laughs from the audience without getting a bruise for each line he speaks.
Much Ado about Nothing is a physical comedy. ?Ouch? was the common refrain from characters thrown to the floor, slapped on the behind, and falling down either of the two stairs of the Elizabethan stage. The comic relief was brought in with two unnamed goofy sheriffs; after all, in this day and age, the only race allowed to be ridiculed is white. But unfortunately, when the comic relief made too many appearances, the audience was already moaning ?Oh, no!? The comic relief was far too excessive, a wrong decision to use so much of contrived audience participation games in order for the play to be children-friendly. It destructively interrupted the plot.
In order to truly be a Mexican art, Much Ado about Nothing featured a live band: Mariachi Sol de Mexico. There were some songs but not enough to call the play a musical. There were some dancing but not enough to call this a dance piece.
It takes an energetic team of talented theater professionals to bring Shakespeare to children. The themes are still valid but the language and the setting were altered for the specific the audience and the presentation of Much Ado about Nothing made the right decision to adapt to the Southern Californian audience. I think the next time I would like to see an adaptation featuring MTA bus riders and vendors selling tamales for a modern LA version.
Much Ado About Nothing was one of the fifteen Saturday morning family shows celebrating world cultures at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. Adults pay five bucks and children pay nothing: reservations are recommended for both adults and children. For reservations (323) GO 1- FORD (461-3673). The Ford Amphitheatre is at 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood, CA 90068.