This summer’s Shakespeare in The Woods performance brings the Bard to Sin City. Director Allison McDonell Page took her rendition of “Much Ado About Nothing” from its original setting at a house party in Italy to celebrate the end of war, to a casino party in Las Vegas to celebrate divorce. It was an appropriate change for a play full of shotgun weddings and booze.
The outdoor venue at Sam’s Woodsite made the setting choice even more appropriate. Page decided to start the play an hour later than normal, 7 p.m. rather than 6. Darkness comes on earlier in the story and the well-lit stage gives off an incandescence reminiscent of the Las Vegas Strip. The fuzzy glow of the disco ball in the evening made me jealous. I wanted to jump into the play’s dance parties and have a poolside drink with the characters in the Las Vegas heat, especially after the sun went down and the chill set in. Speaking of which, bring layers. The Woodsite gets nippy around intermission.
The performance did a wonderful job of making Shakespeare digestible. Use the first couple scenes to acclimate to the Shakespearean language, remember, “wherefore” means “why,” and from there the actors do all the heavy lifting. Relationships, plans, and names are all reiterated, so don’t worry too much if you are confused in the first act. The story emerges clearly enough to be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.
The play opens on the famous Don Pedro, played by Maurice Cooper, and his posse arriving at the Messina Casino to celebrate Don John’s, played by Charles Scatolini, divorce. In his furry vest and white pants, Cooper owns the too-cool persona of Don Pedro, a man bored and confident enough to trick all his friends into marrying each other.
Immediately upon arriving at Vegas, Sam Taylor playing the immature Claudio falls in love with the modest maiden Hero, played by Leslie-Anne Hoxie. When Claudio reveals his love to Don Pedro, Pedro has no doubt that he can play cupid and trick Hero into affection for Claudio. Benedick, the eminent bachelor of the group, played by Jesse Steele, has a different reaction: you don’t come to Vegas to fall in love. Benedick is described as the jester, and has more than a few big laughs during the production, but he is much more than just comic relief. Steele delivers his lines with absolute clarity and purpose, something that cannot be faked in a Shakespearean performance, and allows Benedick to emerge as the most complex character of the show without compromising on physical comedy.
Yvonne Mills was the perfect choice to play Benedick’s foil, Beatrice, an ice-cold, wise-cracking daughter of the Casino Owner. Beatrice is savvy enough to make Benedick the clown, but not too self-assured. There are laughs at her expense.
When she scolds her daughter Hero during the emotional crux of the play, Marcy Murray as Leona fills the Woodsite. She makes the outdoor stage feel small.
The biggest laughs come in the third act from Kevin Worden, Jeff Frome and Bohdi Silva as Dogberry, Verges, and Friar Francis. Worden hits every punchline as one of the funniest characters in all of Shakespeare’s catalogue, and delivers spot-on Three Stooges slapstick with Frome. Silva deadpans his way through ridiculous lines as an Elvis-impersonating marriage officiant.
Probably the most impressive performances come from Lila Creasy, Lia Webb, and Michelle Raust as the Vegas Silk performers. Their acrobatics are impressive. What’s more impressive is that they have to perform them night after night. I get tired thinking about it.
Tickets are free but Sierra Clasic Theatre recommends a donation of $15. New to this year’s Shakespeare in the Woods is the offering of a VIP ticket for $45, which includes a front row seat, cushion, two free drinks and discounts on your next drinks.
The show runs Thursday-Sunday for two consecutive weekends, with the last show on Sunday, August 18.