So Much to Love

Penny Metropulos' simple setup of Shakespeare's comedy pays off

As Benedick, James Carpenter is smooth, savvy, and sexy -- the least we should expect from him. What sets him apart is his thinking. We are privy to his astounding turnaround as he overhears Leonato, Don Pedro, and Claudio set their mischievous romantic trap. Suddenly, on hearing that Beatrice lusts after him, he knows that he is madly, passionately in love with her. His breathtaking realization makes him sweetly vulnerable and appealing.

Domenique Lozano's Beatrice is a fascinating construct, a woman who can appear spinsterish and rigid one minute, tender and winsome the next. But like Benedick, this Beatrice is always highly intelligent and never seems foolishly romantic.

As Lady Margaret, Tanya Shaffer is fresh and exuberant. But her quiet shame when she realizes she's been the pawn in the plot that undoes her mistress is eloquent in its understatement.

Don Burroughs' Claudio is puppyish, perhaps a bit too much for my taste, but his callow willingness to believe the worst of his beloved is well-balanced against his initial eagerness to marry her. Burroughs also makes Claudio's contrition arise logically and naturally. Julian Lopez-Morillas lends force and authority to Leonato, the betrayed and dishonored father; and Joe Vincent is positively gleeful as Don Pedro, the prince who loves playing Cupid.

But it's Dan Hiatt as Dogberry who nearly walks off with the show. He looks like Snoopy as the Red Baron, with his leather helmet and scarf, and he postures in a wondrously preposterous and self-important way. Dogberry thinks in malapropisms, and Hiatt spews them out with unshakable authority. It's a tour de force performance that crowns an evening full of them.

Much Ado About Nothing runs through Oct. 8 at the Bruns Memorial Amphitheatre in Orinda; call (510) 548-9666.

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