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Theater Reviews

'Nothing' Ventured, No Vegas-Gotten Gains

March 01, 1997|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ANAHEIM — "Much Ado About Nothing" in 1950s Vegas? Stages' hipster version of Shakespeare's problematic comedy is nothing compared with some of Bard variations.

In director Amanda DeMaio's edition at Stages, Don Pedro's soldiers are in Sin City for some R&R.

DeMaio never really exploits the rough, rowdy climate that was Vegas during the time when they tested nukes nearby, when Frank Sinatra and Louis Prima ruled like show-biz demigods. (There isn't a Prima tune in the show.) The one gaming table onstage is pretty lame.

And surely the biggest missed opportunity is the on-and-off wedding of Claudio (Kevin Moynahan) and the much-abused Hero (Tracy Perdue), which is staged here as it usually is, with the traditional assembly, the priest and the altar. But this is Vegas. Where's the drive-through, quick-stop wedding chapel?

While DeMaio seems to have not thought through her concept--she may not have had the time, considering Stages' breathtaking production schedule--what she and her cast have worked on is amusing, with the right lounge lizard mentality. The guys blow into town, led by the jaded Benedick (Patrick Gwaltney), and they're in a casino-and-poolside kind of mood, down to the flowered shirts and shades.

This also adds a definite erotic accent that most "Much Ados" lack, and it heightens the unspoken sexual tension between Benedick and Beatrice (Nicole Maringer), who do more trashing smack-talk with each other than most NBA players. Gwaltney and Maringer possess an energy and comic panache most of the cast lacks, and they utterly command attention; this is Benedick and Beatrice's comedy more than a typical "Much Ado."

It also seems that way because Moynihan's Claudio is such a boring simp. (Wooden delivery doesn't help.) The Claudio-Hero love-battle is the comedy's other half, but it comes off here as threadbare. No fault of Perdue, whose Hero gives off an aura any soldier would desire, as well as deeply felt misery at being unjustly accused of infidelity. Moynihan's no match for her, throwing the show's love geometry off-kilter.

*

Good and bad ideas swing side-by-side here, which is what you'd expect from a production that enjoys being messy Shakespeare. It's a good idea to trim the action into a swift evening. Another good idea is turning Conrade, one of the conspirators with Don John (an effectively lizard-like Kreg Donahoe), into a kitten-with-a-whip named Constance (Susana Maria Garcia, who looks like she's trying out for a role in a Russ Meyer movie).

But David Amintin plays the ruling Vegas kingpin, Leonato, like a guy who looks like he's never seen the inside of a casino. And Matt Tully's Dogberry is a confused mishmash of Stan Laurel and Michael Keaton from Kenneth Branagh's film version--absolutely not the kind of clown you'd see in wild Vegas.

The better idea is when the Stages company does Shakespeare its way--flubbed lines, concepts and all--and gives out some of the funky charm this group does as easily as breathing.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

* "Much Ado About Nothing," Stages, 11188 N. Fountain Way, Suite E, Anaheim. tonight, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 p.m. Ends Sunday. $8. (714) 630-3059. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

Patrick Gwaltney: Benedick

Nicole Maringer: Beatrice

Kevin Moynahan: Claudio

Tracy Perdue: Hero

Gavin Carlton: Don Pedro

David Amintin: Leonato

Kreg Donahoe: Don John

Kara Knappe: Antonia

Susana Maria Garcia: Constance

Robert Dean Nunez: Borachio

Matt Tully: Dogberry

A Stages production of William Shakespeare's comedy. Directed by Amanda DeMaio. Lights: Kirk Huff. Sound and technical director: Jon Gaw.

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