|Acker and Morgese as cousins Beatrice and Hero|
Friday, September 14, 2012, Elgin Theatre, 11am
Current pop culture "It Boy" Joss Whedon has done something interesting ... going from the mega hit The Avengers and a legacy of solid TV series hits and/or cult faves like Buffy the Vampire Killer, Angel and Firefly to a modest Shakespearean production of Much Ado that was apparently shot in his own home on a modest budget in b&w film. Pretty impressive. Whedon also adapted the play for the screen, no small feat. As I was the only person on the planet that was bored by The Avengers, I was unsure what to expect.
And Whedon largely succeeds ... A brief synopsis of the play here for those of us (including me) who need a refresher.
Aside from the regressive elements of the play (Leonato wishing his daughter Hero dead rather than not a virgin when he suspects that she has been playing around before her wedding day and then pretending to marry Claudio to an identical proxy to punish him for Hero's "death"), we must forsake political correctness, let those plot points go and embrace the premise and trust the playwright ...
The setting is modern day, replete with business suits and cellphones for this upper echelon of society, within what is allegedly Whedon's California home standing in for a palace in Messina. Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker), who alternately hate and love each other (as William's heroes are wont to do), do a pretty adequate job but something is amiss. This Beatrice is just a little too much on the edge of hysteria in voicing the words of the beautiful and misanthropic Beatrice who swears that she will never marry.
Nor is this Benedick, I almost hesitate to say, "butch" enough for this role. Denisof has a slightly goofy quality that is at odds with the material I think as does Beatrice. Perhaps the director feared that the material would be too static if they played it straight without the pratfalls. Thus, Benedick is rolling around in the bushes (obvious to all) while listening to Don Pedro the Prince and Claudio (Fran Kranz) plotting to throw them together and Beatrice is falling down stairs when Benedick suddenly professes his rediscovered love for her.
The supporting roles are strong ... Leonato (Clark Gregg), Claudio and his betrothed Hero (Jillian Morgese), the Prince (Reed Diamond - wow where has this gorgeous man been?), Dogsberry (Nathan Fillion - who got a resounding burst of applause when he appeared on screen), Prince John and his nefarious underling.
What a vanishing skill this must be for actors ... to move from mastering Shakespearean dialogue to acting in film (or trying to do both).
Well played Mr. Whedon, well played ... I was especially happy as this was one of the few films that both myself and my friend C liked a great deal.