“A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Except for the sound and fury part, that line might have come from “Much Ado About Nothing.” But it’s from “Macbeth,” written in 1606 and indeed “full of sound and fury,” six years after the Bard penned “Much Ado.”
Thankfully, the Brown Box Theatre Project chose comedy over tragedy for its 10th annual free Shakespeare in the park tour coming to Cambridge Wednesday evening, Sept. 22. The highly polished and professional Boston-based troupe drew a bring-your-own-lawn chair crowd of 150 or so to St. Michaels’ Muskrat Park just as a rising full moon was adding the perfect accent to the splendid scenic design by Abby Shenker. She took full advantage of the location by placing the two-tier period set immediately in front of the park’s gazebo, lending its cupola to the home and garden of Leonata, governor of Messina on the island of Sicily.
Her ladyship is hosting a formal dinner celebrating the return of soldiers from war, formally outfitted in deep purple uniforms with golden epaulets and brass buttons–costume designs by Chelsea Kerl, whose sheer ladies’ gowns are fitting for a midsummer night’s dream occasion. Here, the occasion is a mixer for eligible young ladies and gentlemen, whose repartee turns quickly among themselves and later in mixed company to romance. Some are pro, others stridently con. Played by Chelsea Titchenell with a sense of decorum in knowing what’s best, Leonata is keen on marrying off her daughter Hero and niece Beatrice.
Hero, charmingly naive as portrayed by Debbie Aboaba, falls quickly for like-minded Claudio (Christopher Ho), who, while exuding confidence, is too easily fooled by those with their own agenda. Meanwhile, Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Margaret Clark) finds that her mismatch in Benedick (Cam Torres) disdains the prospect of marriage with equal measure to hers. Together they trade some of Shakespeare’s fiercest lines regarding or disregarding the opposite sex. With Hero and Claudio already engaged, they conspire with Leonata and Don Pedro (Spencer Palitew), a prince and senior officer, to convince Benedick and Beatrice that they are meant for each other. They set up an eavesdrop on conversations making up effusive praise of Beatrice to Benedick and vice versa. The physical comedy, first with Torres and then Clark scurrying up and down the staircase and behind every garden shrub to hear what’s said about their characters, is as rich as it is implausible in that the plot works.
With an impending double wedding, Don John (Drew Cleveland), the prince’s bastard brother, is feeling left out. He recruits Borachio (Abuzar Farrukh) to help convince Claudio that Hero is unfaithful as he mistakes handmaiden Margaret (Emma McGill) for her lady.
Enter the idiot who began telling this tale, the clown constable of Messina given the name Dogberry by Shakespeare. Dressed in garish striped socks over floral print shorts and jacket, Bree Perry lets us know from the top that it’s comedy tonight, tragedy some other time.
We can thank director and Eastern Shore native Kyler Taustin for bringing Brown Box to the underserved, theatrically speaking, Delmarva Peninsula. This romantic farce with a touch of intrigue is just the free ticket we need these days—two hours of nothing heavy to think about as a professional company entertains us. Meanwhile, Broadway has opened again. Let’s hope we can keep COVID at bay and let the good times roll again.
Steve Parks is a retired New York theater critic now living in Easton.
“MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING”
Performed for free by Brown Box Theatre Project on Sept. 22, Loge Wharf Park, Cambridge; Sept. 22, J. Millard Tawes Museum grounds, Crisfield; Sept. 23; Northside Park, Ocean City, Sept. 26. Bring lawn chairs or blankets. Details and online program at brownboxtheatre.org