“Much Ado About Nothing” is like pumpkin pie.
I may be paraphrasing but Garrison Keillor once said of pumpkin pie that the difference between good pumpkin pie and bad pumpkin pie is…not that much. “Much Ado About Nothing” is like that for me. I have seen more productions of M.A.A.N. than any other of Shakespeare’s comedies. Some have been better than others, to be sure, but none of them have been bad. Maybe I’ve just been lucky.
One of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, there are lots of characters and most of them afford an opportunity for broad interpretation and wonderful humor. The productions I remember most are those where there was something different; not necessarily better or worse, just different. In a Stratford production about 15 yrs ago, Brian Bedford and Martha Henry were cast as Benedick and Beatrice; respectively. Both actors were more mature than the traditional casting of those roles but it worked very well. One of the biggest laughs of the evening occurred toward the end of the play. Both characters are given something written by the other to read. They each took a beat, then put on reading glasses.
This year’s production is very good. The set and costumes are beautiful. The dramatic moments are intense and comic moments are very funny indeed. What I’ll remember most about this production is Deborah Hay’s Beatrice. The best way I can describe her interpretation is to say it’s how Judy Holliday would have played the part. She is wonderful.
In a bit of Stratford stream-of-consciousness, as much as I enjoyed Ms. Hay in the role of Beatrice, as she moved into her “Oh that I were a man” speech she has a line; “Is he not approved in the height a villain, that hath. slandered, scorned, dishonored my kinswoman?”, Whenever I hear that line I think, not of other productions of M.A.A.N.; but of Brent Carver saying them as Ned (playing Beatrice) in Timothy Findley’s “Elizabeth Rex”. I am not sure how ‘the Bard’ would feel about that but there it is.