By Joseph Geha
By Jonathan Kiefer
By Katie Tandy
By Mollie McWilliams
By Jennifer Baires
By Jonathan Curiel
By Sherilyn Connelly
It's good to see the Shotgun Players take over at Hinkel Park, though, and offer a low-budget (free, in fact) alternative to Cal Shakes. They seem to enjoy themselves, as usual, and give Romeo and Juliet a nimble energy that a lot of summer Shakespeare lacks.
Much Ado About Nothing
Subterranean Shakespeare Artistic Director Stephen Spengler again takes on the thumps and rumbles of this basement venue as director, actor (the soldier prince Don Pedro), and house manager of this production. He's spread a bit thin, but projects a clear affection for the play and its language, while his cast demonstrates (with one or two exceptions) that it understands the words it speaks. Best of all, he's got two terrific actors: the dashing Neil Howard as Benedick and the whip-smart Barbara Jaspersen as Beatrice. Howard's Benedick shuffles and shifts, moving in rhythm with his verbal thrusts and parries. Jaspersen's Beatrice smugly tangles Benedick up in his own wit, and leaves him happily bound. When Benedick agrees to challenge Claudio for Beatrice, Howard deftly navigates Benedick's course from shocked dismay to acquiescence. Jaspersen is extraordinary in the scene in which Hero's marriage is first confirmed. She turns down Don Pedro's somewhat mocking proposal and begs forgiveness, giving the line, "I was born to speak all mirth and no matter" a sad grace note that lends surprising complexity.
Gary Barth's Claudio has trouble conveying levity, but he's fine in the dramatic scenes, while the lovely Amy Sass as Hero would make any man fall in love with her, though she trips up occasionally on the language. There are small miscues and stutters throughout the show, and the low comedy and slapstick sequences fail completely, which inadvertently emphasizes Hero's betrayal to the point of tragedy. The company also loses energy, evincing more relief then celebration at play's end. Yet Spengler's joy in his actors and in Shakespeare's language carries him -- and us -- through.
Through Oct. 2 at La Val's Subterranean Theater, 1834 Euclid in Berkeley. Call (510) 234-6046.