Director René Moreno has set the play in Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, at the turn of the last century. Thus, you have a Col. Don Pedro, a Lt. Claudio and a Capt. Benedick of Chickasha, all of the First Cavalry Regiment. Moreno makes numerous other dialog changes to fit the setting.
Placing Shakespeare plays in the American West is nothing new, and it can bring freshness and interest to the scripts. In this case, however, the changes raise more questions than answers. In the first scene, Claudio is returning from a war in which he distinguished himself in battle. But what war? The Philippine-American War (1899-1902)? And if this is Guthrie, why do policemen wear English bobby uniforms? So the strobelighted, Keystone Cops-like chase scene that Moreno adds looks right?
But the setting really isn’t Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory. It’s generic, smalltown America of 1901. The costumes (by Ashley Bellet) lean largely toward pastels and are of various vintages, indicating a limited costume budget. The centerpiece of the scenic
design (by Ben Hall) is a gazebo, albeit with a longhorn weathervane on
top. Actually, a grittier setting in territorial Oklahoma might have
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Fortunately, all this balderdash and foofaraw don’t weigh down the play. To his credit, Moreno has the actors speak in modern accents, and despite the setting, not a yee-haw or whoop-de-do is heard all night long. In fact, the Shakespearean English in this staging sounds unusually normal to modern ears. Credit Moreno and the actors for that.
But, somehow, most of the humor has been leeched out of the play. Thus, it comes off as more of a romance with a few islets of comedic relief scattered throughout the story.
And with two couples struggling to get together (which, of course, they do in the end), Much Ado has plenty of romantic contentiousness to fill up an evening at the theater.
In the first couple, Benedick carries the show, because he’s the only one really caught in the conflict between the pairs. Lane Fields has been playing romantic leads since back in the last century, but this is the first time I remember him in a Shakespeare play. Always an exceedingly reliable actor, Fields is solid, charming and, when necessary, discombobulated as Benedick. As Beatrice, Stacey Logan is Fields’ equal in love and war. Or maybe that should be war and love.
City Rep is staging Much Ado in conjunction with Oklahoma City University’s School of Theatre. OCU students Alex Enterline as Claudio and Lauren Grace Thompson as Hero are fine as the second couple in this romantic quadrangle.