MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING by William Shakespeare, directed by James MacDonald, with Jacklyn Francis, Juan Chioran, Brett Christopher, Aviva Hoffman, Xuan Fraser and Jim Warren. Presented by CanStage at the Dream Site (High Park). Runs to September 4, Tuesday-Sunday 8 pm. $15 (suggested minimum), under 14 free. 416-367-1652 ext. 2, www.canstage.com. Rating: NNN
Set in post-war 1930s Italy, Much Ado About Nothing stages a battle of the sexes while questioning the cost of trust in a romantic relationship. It's classic stuff for al fresco Shakespeare , and the CanStage production in High Park serves it well.
Hero ( Aviva Hoffman ), the virtuous daughter of Leonato ( Doug MacLeod ), loses lover Claudio's ( Brett Christopher ) trust when Prince John ( Anousha Alamain ) slanders her. Hero's return to grace is abetted by her cousin Beatrice ( Jacklyn Francis ), whose love life consists of banter with the equally acerbic Benedick ( Juan Chioran ).
Initially Francis plays too much to the crowd, and too broad. However, she reels it in for her exchanges with Chioran, whose Benedick anchors the production with a strong, masculine presence, countering Christopher's appropriately flighty Claudio.
Chioran's Benedick never rants, choosing to focus on getting Beatrice to engage with him rather than chew the scenery with Shakespeare's vitriol. Francis responds in kind and is at her best when sparring with real-life husband Chioran.
All director James MacDonald has to do is give them a decent boxing ring. Most directors present the lovers' arguments as a mean little spectator sport, but MacDonald stages Beatrice and Benedick's bickering out of earshot of their friends, underlining their growing attraction while creating a sense of privacy for the couple.
MacDonald's casting is flawless save for Alamain's Prince John, whose accent keeps slipping and whose motivation for mischief is clouded by a weird, unexplored Nazi subtext. The supporting cast turn in good performances, especially Jim Warren , who plays Dogberry's malapropisms as a series of senior moments. Jonathan Monro 's period ragtime and jazz piano tunes add extra sass and style to an already sassy, solid summer offering.