Catch it while you can: “Much Ado About Nothing,” the play that kicked off this year’s Shakespeare in the Park season, ends its run on July 6. A fairly straightforward adaptation by director Jack O’Brien, this production’s liberties include framing the love story of Benedick (Hamish Linklater) and Beatrice (Lily Rabe) in 1940s Sicily.
The two lead actors, who’ve worked with one another numerous times before, and are both veterans to the Delacorte, can practically do no wrong — even if they take some warming up in the first scenes to get “Much Ado” just right. Rabe’s delivery of Beatrice’s signature scathing wit has you hanging on her every word, yet rooting for Linklater’s fumbling braggadocio bachelor to win her hand.
In their wake, you’re barely paying attention to the melodrama of the lesser storylines, in which a cruel villain (Pedro Pascal) tricks his brother (Brian Stokes Mitchell) into wrongly scorning a virtuous would-be bride (Ismenia Mendes). The girl pretends that she has died in order to hide her family’s shame. The second act ramps up the shenanigans set up in the first, often thanks to conflated identities involving masks (ordered for the play from Latvia, as it so happens, which you can learn in our behind-the-scenes slideshow).
Running about three hours, the show could definitely lose quite a bit of its redundant dialogue, especially when the audience is essentially just waiting for the characters to learn who knows what, and surprises are past further plotting. The bumbling constable (John Pankow) in the second act is like every drunk fool we wait out in casual passing, occasionally amusing but mostly a test of patience that we wish to circumnavigate. That’s not this production’s fault, of course, as it’s written that way — but by that hour of the evening, the character’s conceits are not capable of living up to the Bard’s comedic intentions.
For something with a bit more meat to it, “King Lear” begins on July 22, directed by Daniel Sullivan.