This is the way Shakespeare is meant to be: clear, explicit, honest and full of what the playwright had in mind.
The American Players Theatre opened an absolutely perfect production of "Much Ado About Nothing" under clear and warm skies Saturday night at its beautiful theater in Spring Green.
When I say perfect, I mean everything is there. The play is a delight, funny, tragic, full of love and lies, pretty women, handsome men, characters who are smart and characters who are dotty.
The sets and costumes by Roger Morgan are spectacular, colorful, detailed and evocative of both the time and place. It is not easy to design both, but Morganâ€™s experience is on full display.
The direction by David Frank, who is in his 23rd and final year with APT, is free and pointed. He knows where the depths are in this play, both the overall depth and that for each character, and he has created a climate that allows his actors to find new things in their character.
And oh, the actors. A cast of 28 parts and not a weak spot to be found. James Pickering does Dogberry, upon whom the entire play turns in a moment, like the thoughtful and funny actor he can be â€“ which means just about better than anyone in the state. Brian Mani gives us a father with all the pride and trouble that a child can bring. He is so strong and touching that there is a kinship with everyone who is a father, is married to a father, has a father or wants to be a father.
And then there is the couple upon which this play is built: Benedick, played by David Daniel and Beatrice, played by Colleen Madden.
The story follows this odd couple, who each pledges to never marry for a variety of reasons and who have developed a relationship built on searing insults. The pair trades barbs so sharp, pointed and funny that you almost cringe when you laugh.
Daniel is a spectacular Benedick. He is forceful, but from the earliest moments, you get the idea that behind his caustic personality there lies the heart of a romantic, just waiting to find a reason to let free. Itâ€™s hard for any actor to let the audience know that there are layers to a character, but Daniel pulls this off with sparkling aplomb.
And then there is Colleen Madden. Iâ€™ve been watching Shakespeare for dozens of years and I have never â€“ let me repeat, never â€“ seen a performance quite like this.
First of all, she is absolutely stunning. She combines a kind of earthy appeal with a sexy distance that is so very charming. Then there is the language. In Shakespeare, it is all about the words that he wrote. Madden has found something special in each syllable and has put it all together into a magical series of intriguing moments. Actors the world over should watch Madden here to see how hard work and talent can find everything that Shakespeare intended.
She is funny. She is smart. She is supportive. She is independent. She grows tender, and each one of those attributes just expands this incredible personality of Beatrice. When she and Benedick finally profess their love, she proves her mettle by placing a distasteful test of his love for her before him. She may go into the night of love, but she wonâ€™t go quietly.
There are two back-to-back scenes that show the comedic mettle of both Daniel and Madden.
The first occurs when three men, knowing Benedick is hiding near, go through a lengthy discussion about how Beatrice truly loves him and how they wish he knew about it. Daniel's listing and continually moving his hiding place is about the funniest thing Iâ€™ve ever seen.
Then the scene switches gender, and two women talk to a hiding Beatrice about Benedickâ€™s love for her. Maddenâ€™s reaction is equally funny.
Something must be said about APT and Shakespeare.
Many people fear Shakespeare. They remember reading "Macbeth" in high school or taking a college survey course. They came to believe they couldnâ€™t understand the language, and that fear can be a self-fulfilling prophecy as they go to a play believing even before the curtain rises that they will not "get it."
Those people need to see this play. Under the help and guidance of voice and text coach Robert Ramirez, the language is as plain and easy to grasp as that of your neighbor. The clarity of this production is remarkable.
As is the entire play.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published May 31, 2016
A recent Facebook post by Mark Clements, the respected artistic director at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, has made me think about my professional occupation as a theater critic for OnMilwaukee.
Published May 27, 2016
There is something about live theater that provides room for the little things in life, things that don't come with trumpets but with little bells, things that don't move mountains but may move the soul.
Published May 26, 2016
Charlie Sykes has long been a star of conservative politics, having built a kind of cottage industry mixing radio, television, books and his own peculiar brand of journalism. He may now be part of "The Mainstream Media."
Published May 26, 2016
A kind of social media pandemonium got underway Wednesday when Viswa Subbaraman announced he was resigning as the artistic director at Skylight Music Theatre. The board will take its time, however, finding a replacement.
Published May 25, 2016
No matter how it gets spun, Milwaukee's performing arts community took a severe hit Wednesday when Viswa Subbaraman announced he was leaving his post as artistic director of the Skylight Music Theatre.
Published May 24, 2016
The Wisconsin theater season generally begins in early summer when The American Players Theatre opens in Spring Green, shortly after the previous Milwaukee season comes to an end in spring. The 2015-16 season is now over and it's time for Dave Begel's annual list of the best plays of the season.
Published May 21, 2016
Skylight's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance" delivered a rollicking and laugh-filled first act. As for the second act? Unfortunately, that's where the Skylight's season finale ran out of gas.
Published May 20, 2016
There are rare moments in the life of an arts organization when something happens that is a stamp of its style and the core belief that makes it who it is. The Milwaukee Ballet unfurled a moment just like that Thursday night with "Alice (in wonderland)."
Published May 19, 2016
Demond Means, a skilled and accomplished educator, is a guy who deserves some sympathy for being caught between a rock and a hard place as he tries to move the rock. He faces tough opponents in reform efforts.
Published May 18, 2016
Somebody somewhere needs to sit me down in a corner and explain why the City of Milwaukee needs a new "People's flag" to replace the one we've had for over 60 years.