THEATER | Strong performances save a sagging “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Guthrie Theater

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Dry wit is no rarity in Shakespeare, but it’s what Much Ado About Nothing absolutely runs on. Like a good comic routine, with this play the difference between amusing and hilarious is all in the delivery. Several strong performances in the Guthrie Theater’s current production of Much Ado fill the bill, lifting the show and carrying it when it starts to sag.

Claudio (Bill McCallum) and Hero (Michelle O’Neill) seem to make a perfect match, until the vengeful Don John (a scenery-chewing Ron Menzel) sets up a deception that convinces Claudio that Hero has been sheathing another man’s sword. Whether the truth will out depends on a brigade of Keystone Kops led by Dogberry (Peter Michael Goetz). Meanwhile, confirmed bachelor/ettes Benedick (Daniel Gerroll) and Beatrice (Dearbhla Molloy) seem to be running out of excuses not to marry each other.

In a not-unprecedented move for the Guthrie, director Joe Dowling has cast curiously old for a play that’s set when the average life expectancy was about 35: blushing bride O’Neill was recently seen on the Wurtele Thrust as Lady Macbeth; and Molloy—born in 1946—may be as much as twice her character’s age. That said, Molloy is one of the production’s linchpins, rollicking through the early scenes with her acid tongue and displaying fierce resolve when it’s needed later on; her foil Gerroll is also superb. Also enlivening the second act is Goetz, who laps up his comic role like his eponymous critter given a bowlful of gravy.

With flairful (if that’s not a word, I don’t care) costumes by Fabio Toblini but a unexceptional set by Riccardo Hernández, this production overall is unlikely to make your eyes pop, to make your belly hurt from laughing, or to have you on the edge of your seat with suspense—but it’s a fine, affectionate staging of a classic play. In true Minnesota spirit, the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the supporting characters are above average.

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