Livermore Shakespeare Festival's production of "Much Ado About Nothing" is a romantic riot of silliness and nonsense that leaves the grapes in the surrounding Concannon Vineyards quivering with the echoes of audience laughter.
This is a funny, funny production created by director Lisa Tromovitch and her cast, who have lovingly fed Shakespeare's script through a wine press to squeeze out every laugh, giggle and bit of shtick they could find. And they find much and deliver it beautifully, with laughter and romance popping across the stage like so many Shakespearean firecrackers.
"Much Ado" is set on the estate of Leonato, duke of Messina, where a ship has docked and the crew has gathered to celebrate victory in battle. This sets the stage for a bigger and more protracted battle, between Beatrice (Jennifer Le Blanc) and Benedick (Ryan Tasker).
They go at it from the moment Benedick leaves his ship. Beyond the wordplay, though, it quickly becomes evident there is more going on than insults, but the duo just can't give in and let romance begin.
That is hardly the case with Hero (Kat Cordes) and Claudio (Glenn Stott), who are cruising toward marriage like guided missiles. Their misery doesn't come until much later.
One way or another, though, the hormones run high as the chase and capture of romance continues day and night. And director Tromovitch takes full advantage of scenes that fill the stage with performers, making every inch of space worth paying attention to.
That gives even the actors in small roles a chance to have their moments in the bright lights and affords most of the performers a chance to hone their real-life flirting skills, creating a delightful sense of comic realism throughout the production. It also gives the audience a number of tiny dramas to savor.
Overall, the quality of acting has improved each of the 15 years or so the festival has been operating. Tromovitch set the bar high for the theater company, and the results have become evident, especially in the past couple of years.
It all seems to come together in "Much Ado," which could be the finest ensemble cast show presented by the company to date. Some of the reason could be the troupe's intern program, which trains new members and is helping to build something of a core company.
The company's principals are returning, adding strength and continuity to the group. Le Blanc and Tasker, both quite familiar to Livermore Shakes audiences, create memorable performances bringing Beatrice and Benedick to life. William J. Wolak, in several roles, was a delight. Matthew Ballin, as Dogberry, the confused police chief, was a comic wonder, as were Sean Patrick Higgins, in several roles, and Cordes as Hero.
The show centers on the vineyard's elaborate Victorian house that fills the rear area of stage, supporting an open set by Randall A. Enlow that is beautifully designed for lots of action.
Contact Pat Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By William Shakespeare, presented by Livermore Shakespeare Festival
Through: July 6
Where: Concannon Vineyard, 4590 Tesla Road, Livermore
Running time: 2 hours,
Also: Livermore Shakespeare Festival also presents Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" July 10-20 at the same venue.