Evelyn Carol Case, left, and Michael Nehring as Beatrice and Benedick in… (Katie Wilson )
Some odd quirks and remnants of wit adorn “Much Ado About Nothing,” which closes Shakespeare Orange County’s 21st season in beautifully appointed, crowd-pleasing, curiously off-kilter fashion.
Thematically, the Bard’s romantic comedy benefits from the 1920s setting that director Thomas F. Bradac and his resourceful forces concoct, in particular scenic designer Michael D. Fountain’s terra cotta-inflected Sicilian terrace and Kathryn Wilson’s suave costume parade.
But attempting a multi-generational take on love with the best of intent, Bradac casts veteran character actors as enamored-beneath-the-insults Beatrice and Benedick, which throws the tonal balance off. Shakespeare OC fixture Michael Nehring thus makes a mature Benedick of outsized comic attack, Evelyn Carol Case a Beatrice whose louche delivery suggests Auntie Mame gone iambic.
Though determined, their extravagant turns yield farcical high jinks where light-fingered acerbity is what Shakespeare wrote, and, at times, vice-versa. This serves the play but fitfully, leaving Malia Wright’s affable Hero and Shaun Anthony’s fluent Claudio little room for contrast.
All their colleagues similarly play clownish here, melodramatic there -- when low-comic relief Dogberry (Craig Brown) is more eloquent than knee-slapping, villainous Don John (Brian Clark) prancing rather than sinister, something’s askew in Messina. Still, the audience at the reviewed performance ate it up, so perhaps I should sigh no more, ladies.
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“Much Ado About Nothing,” Festival Amphitheatre, 12762 Main St., Garden Grove. 8:15 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends Sept. 1. $34. (714) 590-1575 or www.shakespeareoc.org. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.