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Theater review: 'Much Ado About Nothing' at Old L.A. Zoo

September 10, 2009 |  3:00 am

Much Ado Cast 3 The resourceful folks at the newly formed Vesper Theater Company could have second careers as location scouts.  The most captivating aspect of “Much Ado About Nothing,” the group’s first outdoor Shakespeare production, intended as a yearly event, is the locale – just outside the abandoned bear caves at the old L.A. Zoo in Griffith Park.

Aptly and wittily dubbed “Shakespeare on the Rocks”  -- a reference to the cascading man-made boulders that surround the caves – this initial offering, directed by Tim Landfield, is rough-edged but nonetheless charming, a propitious launch that bodes well for future endeavors.

Of course, Shakespeare’s dark comedy about a young Italian gentlewoman falsely accused of fornication at her own wedding is most famous for the delightfully acid repartee between the bride’s sharp-witted kinswoman, Beatrice (appealingly feisty Courtnie Sauls), and her equally caustic admirer, Benedick (authoritative Corey MacIntosh), who circle around each another like angry cranes in a mating ritual.

As is the problem with many local Shakespearean productions, certain actors are somewhat overwhelmed by the language, which suffers from occasional mush-mouthiness.  However, there are excellent performances to be found, particularly Patrick Blakely’s suave Don Pedro, a well-meaning nobleman misled by his scheming bastard brother, Don John (effectively brooding John Dimitri) and Ben Stranahan’s Leonato, an outraged father whose emotions, upon hearing his daughter decried as a “stale,” run the gamut from confusion to dismay to righteous wrath.

--F. Kathleen Foley

Much Ado About Nothing,” Old L.A. Zoo on Griffith Park Drive.  3:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.  Ends Oct. 11.  Suggested donation $10.  (323) 207-6365.  Running time:  2 hours, 20 minutes

Photo: Corey MacIntosh, left, and Courtnie Sauls in "Much Ado About Nothing." Credit: Chris Collins