Will Shakespeare was in a good mood as the 17th century approached.
That’s when he wrote “Much Ado About Nothing,” which is just pure joy.
The comedy is The Rogue Theatre’s current offering, and director Joseph McGrath embraced that joy with abandon.
He infused the production with physical humor, glee and a sort of “OK, Will, we’ll do it your way” attitude.
Productions around the globe have transported “Much Ado” to such places and times as the Mexican Revolution, a modern-day Sicilian spa and 1930s Manhattan.
But The Rogue doesn’t fool around with Shakespeare’s plays — the company sets them in the time they were written. That’s fine with us, especially since Cynthia Meier, the company’s co-founder with McGrath, seems to love creating doublets and partlets and paying attention to Elizabethan clothing rules: peasants in dull colors and cheaper fabrics; those higher up have rich colors and richer textiles. The costumes were about as much fun as the play.
And oh, is this play — this production — fun.
This is a strong ensemble of actors who wrapped their tongues around the language with a deep-seated understanding of Shakespeare’s rhythm and words.
Holly Griffith and Ryan Parker Knox are Beatrice and Benedick, who are engaged in a constant war of wits. The energy and connection between Knox and Griffith feels organic, giving even more oomph to the relationship. And they both have hysterical farcical turns — he while eavesdropping on a conversation about how Beatrice loves him; she doing the same while her cousin is discussing how much he loves her. The fourth-grade-like ruse was concocted by friends so that the two would finally give up warring and give in to their mutual attraction.
Shakespeare’s clowns are always a highlight, and that’s no exception with Dogberry, brought to life by Matt Walley. Dogberry misuses and abuses words in the most wonderful way, and Walley knew just what to do with the language and the character.
As light and fluffy as “Much Ado” is, it has a dark side and could easily have turned into a tragedy.
Hero (a delicate Bryn Booth) and Claudio (Hunter Hnat) fall instantly in love and are to be married until Don John (Christopher Johnson), the bitter brother to the war hero Don Pedro (a spot-on Aaron Shand), decides such happiness won’t prevail. Don John concocts a scene that leaves the impression that Hero is unfaithful. Claudio is so outraged that he decides to humiliate her at the altar and expose her as a loose woman.
Hnat has a herculean task keeping the audience in his grips. But while we are horrified at his callousness, he wins us back quickly with his deep grief when he thinks Hero has died.
Even the creepy Don John — and Johnson does make him creepy — is redeemed, mostly thanks to McGrath’s treatment of the end, which underscored that hey, this is all in good fun.