Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing gets the Zombie Joe treatment in director Denise Devin’s 70-minute quasi-Commedia dell’arte confection that looks at the foibles of love with a winking eye. By stripping the story down to its bare essentials, Devin directs her cast to play the action fast and light, a choice that gives a breathless anticipation to the classic story beginning with a madcap prologue set to music. The tone is clearly fun and games as the actors speed-thru all of the subsequent scenes in a wild comedy of charades before getting down to the actual telling of the story. And tell it well they do.
Two couples – Beatrice (Jennifer Kenyon) & Benedick (Amir Khalighi), who match each other wit for wit, and Claudio (Philip Rodriguez) & Hero (Stefanie Ogden), naïve young lovers who fall victim to a villain’s plot, must wrangle with their own preconceived notions of romance to win at love. The former have insistently sworn off marriage and the latter joyfully race to the proverbial finish line until disaster strikes at the hands of a bitter Don John (J. Van Auken). They’ll get to their happy ending but not before their view of love changes quite drastically for one and all.
Kenyon hammers Khalighi with a shrew-like deprecation that never lets up and Khalighi responds with a comically heightened intensity that is one part preening soldier, two parts petulant boy who’s been bested by a girl on the playground. It’s a spirited take on the role by an actor who consistently delivers fine work. Ogden and Rodriguez handle the shift in tone at the wedding nicely and Gino Costabile does fine work as Don Pedro. In a gender switch that plays beautifully in this version of Much Ado, Sarah Fairfax presides over all as Leonata. Fairfax takes charge with natural authority tempered by a graceful calculation of the text using a lovely, rich quality of her vocal register.
Texturally there is also a feeling of playing dress up in this production that may or may not be intentional; either way, I loved it. The freshness and sense of throwing oneself into the action reminded me of what children do when they make up a story and act out all the parts. Even the costumes felt like they could have sprung partly from the traditional costume chest and partly from the back of mom and dad’s ransacked closet. It’s a ZJU aesthetic that is perfect for this kind of comedy creatively put together by Devin and Jennifer Holloway.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Now through December 2, 2012
Zombie Joe’s Underground
4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA
For tickets call 818-202-4120
Photo 1: Amir Khalighi and Jennifer Kenyon
Photo 2: Philip Rodriguez, Amir Khalighi, and Gino Costabile
Photo credit: Zombie Joe and Denise Devin