An evening under the stars at the Theatricum Botanicum rarely disappoints. No exception to that general rule, “Much Ado About Nothing,” playing in repertory in the theater’s sylvan Topanga setting, is light of heart and deft of foot.
Although they occasionally overdo the slapstick, co-directors Ellen Geer and Willow Geer have undoubtedly crafted a real crowd-pleaser. Even an owl on a nearby hillside hooted its approbation.
The story deals primarily with the unlikely romance between Beatrice (Susan Angelo) and Benedick (Robertson Dean), high-born marriage-haters who persistently skewer each other with their rapier wit.
The two are brought together by comical subterfuges on the part of their various friends and relatives. But when Beatrice’s noble cousin, Hero (Jackie Kiikvee), is publicly dishonored on her wedding day to Claudio (Colin Simon), Benedick’s bosom friend, the high jinks take a serious turn.
The darker side of this ostensible romp, of course, is that the virginal Hero is so easily besmirched by sexist schemers -- and once she’s suspected of losing her “virtue,” she might as well be dead.
But sweep those disturbing subtexts from your postmodern perspective and you’ll have a rollicking good time.
Costume designer Val Miller has fashioned striking period attire, from crisp uniforms for the soldiers to lovely white gowns for the court’s noblewomen.
Among the workmanlike cast, Franc Ross is especially imposing as Leonato, Hero’s father, who is shattered by his daughter’s fall from grace, while Angelo is adroit and engaging throughout.
Yet the real reason to see this “Much Ado” is Dean, a past master of the droll double take who plays the audience like a cheap violin. A charter member of the he-man-woman-hater’s club, his Benedick plummets into love like a trapeze artist missing the net.
“Much Ado About Nothing,” Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. Runs in repertory, check theater for schedule. Ends Sept. 28. $25-$37. (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com/plays.htm. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.