Much Ado About Nothing. Delacorte Theater (see Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Dir.ected by Jack O’Brien. With Hamish Linklater, Lily Rabe. Running time: 2hrs 35mins. One intermission. Tickets are free (two per person) and may be picked up only on the day of performance after noon at the Delacorte Theater. A limited number of tickets are also distributed via online lottery; see website for details.
Much Ado About Nothing: In brief
They made adorable lovers four summers ago in The Merchant of Venice; now Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater can't stand each other. The two return to Central Park to star as the cutely quarreling Beatrice and Benedick in Jack O'Brien’s outdoor production of Shakespeare’s classic rom-com. Brian Stokes Mitchell, John Glover and John Pankow are also in the company. As always, this Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park offering is free.
Much Ado About Nothing: Theater review by Adam Feldman
Do you believe in magic? At the outset of Jack O’Brien’s wondrous account of Much Ado About Nothing in Central Park, the sound of music makes the garden wall at an Italian villa shift aside. It’s as potent a metaphor as any for the power of love to breach our defenses, as it does for the play’s pair of witty sex warriors. At first, Hamish Linklater’s gangling, chatty Benedick may seem outmatched by Lily Rabe’s tough-voiced and boisterous Beatrice; but, as in 2010’s The Merchant of Venice, the two actors turn out to complement each other beautifully. On the rainy night I saw them, their chemistry seemed to have the force to hold the very clouds at bay.
But Beatrice and Benedick—though rarely this well assayed—are the easy part. The real challenge of Much Ado is how to handle the rest of the play, including a false-jealousy drama of the kind that Shakespeare also deployed (to more tragic effect) in Othello and The Winter’s Tale. It is here that O’Brien’s fleet, thoughtful staging shows its depth. Each aspect of it clicks into place as part of a larger whole—from David Yazbek’s aforementioned music and John Lee Beatty’s paradisiacal set, which includes rows of vegetables and a marble fountain, to a company that makes even the smaller characters seem fully inhabited. (Pedro Pascal’s sardonic Don John and David Manis’s tippling, ineffectual Antonio are notable in that regard.) Together they create one of the most thoroughly enjoyable Shakespeare in the Park productions I’ve ever seen.—Theater review by Adam Feldman
THE BOTTOM LINE Rabe, Linklater, O’Brien and company are making something special.
Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam