Much Ado About Nothing' turns out to be a fresh take on the Bard 

Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park made an excellent choice when it hired Steve Knight to direct its opening production of the 2008 season. Knight is an intelligent and imaginative interpreter of Shakespeare, and his "Much Ado About Nothing," now at the congenial Water Stage in downtown Oklahoma City, is the freshest OSP production in years.

This "Much Ado" does not soar with the stylish bonhomie of the memorable "A Midsummer Night's Dream" that Knight staged for Oklahoma City Theatre Company two years ago, but it does have his directorial touch.

The production starts slowly, but by the end of the first act, Paul Stuart, as Benedick, takes over the show. His Benedick begins as an exuberant bachelor, and by the time he finds out that Beatrice (Jennifer Farley) may love him, he turns into a lovable goofball. After realizing the inevitability of marriage to Beatrice, Benedick declares "the world must be peopled" the way Admiral Farragut declared "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

Claudio and Hero, the other lovers in "Much Ado," have a nearly star-crossed relationship. Although they fall in love at first sight, they are victims of a dastardly trick played by Don Pedro's bastard brother, Don John. As portrayed by Jon Haque, Don John is a bilious sociopath. Seemingly motivated only by malice and the desire to destroy others' happiness, he plots to make Claudio (Quinn Gasaway) think that Hero (Brooke Culbertson) has been unfaithful to him on the night before their nuptials. This results in near tragedy when Claudio publicly humiliates Hero.

Fortunately, Friar Francis (Christopher Curtis) comes up with a successful plan to make the villains reveal themselves, resolve all matters satisfactorily and put the cost of a double wedding on Leonato (Paul Armstrong).

Michael Gibbons is Don Pedro, with Law McMeans as the evil Borachio and Hal Kohlman as the discombobulated Dogberry. The production is played in Robert Pittenridge's fine but conventionally Elizabethan-looking costumes. 

"?Larry Laneer

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