The Knee-Slappingest Show in New York

02/20/2013 9:50 AM |

Theater for a New Audiences Much Ado About Nothing Maggie Siff and Jonathan Cake

It’s a Shakespeare comedy that’s truly boffo: Theater for a New Audience’s lively, fresh, merry and musical production of Much Ado About Nothing (at the Duke on 42nd Street through April 6) is the funniest thing you can see right now on a New York stage. Credit goes first to director Arin Arbus, every year establishing herself more firmly as the city’s foremost interpreter of Shakespeare. Her productions are plain, with sparse sets, few props, and no heavy conceptions; but they’re deceptively traditional, subversively novel. Her emphasis is on Text, the essence and the basics, and in it her performers find something breathing, something laughing, quivering and violent.

Credit second then to the performers, the well-integrated ensemble, who fill out Arbus’s productions. Maggie Siff, who was Kate in last season’s Taming of the Shrew (and had a recurring role on Mad Men), plays Beatrice here, and like the great Lily Rabe she makes Shakespeare sound vibrant, conversational, and contemporary—her verbal sparring with Benedick becomes a knee-slapping, screwball battle of wits to rival Shrew‘s bawdy banter. But it’s Jonathan Cake, as Benedick, who comes to dominate this production, establishing himself, in audience-addressing soliloquies, as the funniest man in town, chewing up the poetry and spitting it out in excitable bursts; he finds the physical in it, too: crawling covertly, leaping in love. “Man is a giddy thing,” Benedick says. Ditto this production.

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