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Theater review: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at A Noise Within

March 11, 2010 |  7:00 pm

400.3 of 4.ANW 09-10 MuchAdo287 Men and women may never resolve their differences, but nonetheless "the world must be peopled," as converted bachelor Benedick concedes in "Much Ado About Nothing." To that end, A Noise Within, Glendale's classical repertory theater, offers a revival of William Shakespeare's battle-of-the-sexes romp that's smart, seductive, and above all, funny.

The lion's share of laughs are supplied by JD Cullum's idiosyncratic turn as Benedick, who, through mischievous intervention by his friends, gets tricked into romance with his adversary, the sharp-tongued Beatrice (Torri Higginson). A tactician so completely ruled by his head that he needs others to tell him where his heart lies, Cullum entertains through every step of his Benedick's emotional about-face, whether mocking with subtle irony the foibles of others or falling victim to his own with the broadest slapstick.

Since their past history is never revealed, director Michael W. Murray chooses to make the flirtation between  them obvious from the outset (even if they themselves are unaware of it), trading off their potentially greater arc from true enemies to lovers in favor of more upfront physical attraction. Lively ensemble choreography by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott  furthers this theme.

The play's more problematic subplot – involving Claudio (Brandon Hearnsberger) and the fiancée (Lindsay Gould) he abandons after she's been slandered – has not been entirely solved. Though Claudio mirrors Benedick in the darker side of emotional manipulation, he remains a callow jerk untroubled by genuine remorse for his fickle affections.

As the pompous, bumbling constable Dogberry, Mark Bramhall delivers scene-stealing hilarity; in his impassioned malaprops he's truly "too cunning to be understood." Not so the production, which renders Shakespeare's comedy with admirable clarity.

– Philip Brandes

"Much Ado About Nothing," A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Runs in Repertory, check theater for dates and times. Ends May 21. $40-$44. (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

Photo: Torri Higginson  and JD Cullum. Photo credit:  Craig Schwartz.