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Superbly directed MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING runs at Shakespeare in Delaware Park through August 19.

THE BASICS: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, a comedy by William Shakespeare presented by Shakespeare in Delaware Park, directed by the marvelous Kyle LoConti, starring Todd Benzin as Benedick and Kate LoConti as Beatrice runs through Sunday August 19, Tuedays through Sundays (no performances on Mondays) at 7:30 on Shakespeare Hill in Delaware Park (856-4533). Runtime: 2 hours 20 minutes (one of Shakespeare’s shorter plays) including one intermission. Weather cancellations will be posted by 6:30 p.m. on Facebook. Hot dogs, snacks, souvenirs, tee-shirts, jewelry drawing, good-will offering taken at intermission, plenty of porta-potties with handwashing station, bring your own chair or blanket, wine, picnics, etc. and bring a jacket because it gets cold after the sun sets.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: All of the action takes place at the home of the governor of Messina, Leonato, where live the two female love interests, the innocent Hero, daughter of Leonato, and the “never-shall-I-marry” Beatrice, his niece with a wit as sharp as any sword. Don Pedro, just back from the wars, has accepted Leonato’s offer to house him and his men, including our two male lovers, the dashing young Claudio and the “never-shall-I-marry” Benedick, who tries gamely to match wits with Beatrice. Through gentle mischief, Beatrice and Benedick are brought together, but the romance between Claudio and Hero suffers a major reversal when Don John, the illegitimate half brother of Don Pedro, jealous over the success of Claudio, hatches an evil plot to ruin Hero’s reputation. Worry not, it all ends well.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Let’s be honest, Shakespeare’s language is chock full of archaic words and when you have a character such as Dogberry who uses current words, but incorrectly, it’s easy for the humor to be lost in the lack of translation. Which is why, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the director leaving nothing to chance. And Director Kyle LoConti has done it yet again, bringing her big-league chops back to Delaware Park, though she has been recently wowing people in smaller out-of-the-way venues, such as directing STEEL MAGNOLIAS at Desiderio’s Dinner Theatre and more recently directing STELLALUNA at Theater of Youth. Those last two might have flown beneath your radar. Don’t let that happen here.

Director Kyle LoConti has done it yet again, bringing her big-league chops back to Delaware Park, though she has been recently wowing people in smaller out-of-the-way venues.

And, to me, what makes her directorial triumph even more spectacular is that she has done it without resorting to the usual crotch grabbing, pelvic thrusting, and other bawdy Elizabethan body language that most other directors would use non-stop to get an audience over the unfamiliar language. For example, early in the play, the character Beatrice refers to Benedick as “Signor Montanto.” A “montanto” in fencing, or sword play, refers to an upward thrust. But here, director LoConti goes for the less sexualized meaning that “Signor Montanto” enjoys verbal swordplay.

But I don’t mean to imply that LoConti is holding anything back. In fact, during the “slut shaming” scene, all of the principles on stage have obviously been encouraged to fully engage without holding back, so that, at the conclusion of that scene, the audience’s outrage is ready for the dramatic release provided by Beatrice’s full-stage rant over the treatment of her cousin – “He is now as valiant as Hercules that only tells a lie and swears it” – a scene which received loud spontaneous applause and much shouting of the “You go, girl!” variety.

All of the principle roles are played by actors with years of experience and it shows. Beatrice is played by “she of the ever perfect rapid fire diction” Kate LoConti who has been so impressive over at Irish Classical Theatre dashing off line after line of dialog in English drawing room comedies. Her “foil” is Benedick (or Benedict in this version) played by Todd Benzin, whose actorly skill is demonstrated in his controlled performance. He has the chops to steal the show, but it’s a measure of his skill to keep a lid on it. Nick Stevens could play the role of the evil Don John, and would be well cast, but instead plays Claudio, a much more nuanced and confused character, who lets it all hang out in the second act.

After seeing Melinda Capeles in such fiery roles as “Veronica” in THE MOTHERF***ER WITH THE HAT not to mention her portrayal of the singer “La Lupe” in LA LUPE: MY LIFE, MY DESTINY I was surprised to see that Melinda Capeles was cast as the innocent daughter named Hero, but I shouldn’t have been. She does have great range.

Chris Hatch, who was recently Petruchio at SIDP has an easy commanding presence on stage and was able downplay that to bring great comedy to the role of “The Prince.”  Like the actors Benzin, Stevens, and Hatch mentioned above, Xavier Harris plays “the bad guy” Don John with understatement and control, avoiding the temptation to be melodramatic. The one-named “Fisher” played a very convincing Leonato, the father of Hero, and you really did feel for the guy. And Greg Gjurich was once again marvelous as a comic lead, leading the audience through some very tricky Shakespearean word play in extended scenes and getting big, big laughs, much bigger than most actors do in similar circumstances.

A fully enjoyable evening of repartee.

UP NEXT: Many of the actors in MUCH ADO can be seen in a variety of roles at area theaters for the 37th Annual CURTAIN UP! on September 14.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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