theater: Shakespeare for Beginners 

“Much Ado” offers a respectable dose of the Bard, with enough slapstick to help it go down.

Though the show brushes past many of Shakespeare’s twists and turns, the plot is largely intact. It begins at the home of the governor of Messina, Leonato (Eric Dobbs). A returning soldier, Claudio (Christopher Yule) is hot for Leonato’s daughter, Hero (Karen Novack). Benedick (Grant Mudge) has nothing but contempt for Claudio’s sappy devotion to Hero. At the same time, Benedick and Beatrice (Cynde Liffick) circle one another with venom but predictable attraction.

Five actors perform all of the roles. With only a few exceptions, it’s easy to follow the rapid-fire transitions from character to character. However, it’s important to distinguish between Hero and her maid just before intermission. Novack plays both roles, so pay extra attention to her voice and to the boa she is wearing as the lights change. Otherwise, if you are unfamiliar with the play, you might miss the “nothing” in “Much Ado About Nothing.”

The show suffers from one significant flaw. The “merry war” between Benedick and Beatrice never ignites. As Beatrice, Liffick is blunt and one-dimensional. Without sharp edges, she reflects back none of Mudge’s tremendous energy. Their barbs bounce off one another without the sting of romantic insecurity. Consequently, the attraction between Beatrice and Benedick feels more theoretical than real.

Mudge does his best, however. Because of his over-the-top performance, we can almost forgive the misfire of the play’s most interesting relationship. He banters with the audience, diddles with party favors, pours water over himself and even gives Constable Dogberry an Inspector Clouseaulike spin.

In one sense, Yule is too charming as Claudio. His appeal to the audience overrides much of his character’s boorishness. But in the absence of a proper duel between Beatrice and Benedick, this doltish suitor commands more attention than usual.

There isn’t much of a set, not counting Agecroft Hall itself. But that’s more than enough. Vanessa Leuck’s costumes strike the appropriate Shakespearean quasi-Italian military notes.

Mudge’s direction measures out the elements with good sense. You get a respectable dose of the Bard along with enough slapstick to help it go down. The audience is encouraged to laugh at the quick before-our-eyes character changes, and we are involved in the plot at various times. Mudge’s adept ad-libbing may also come in handy if unexpected weather patterns continue to hit. S

“Much Ado About Nothing” continues through July 6, at 8 p.m. at Agecroft Hall. Tickets cost $10 to $17 and can be purchased by calling (800) 955-5566 or online at

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