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Much Ado About Nothing Reminds Us All's Fair (and Funny) in Love and War

This Actors' Shakespeare Project production offers nothing but a good time.

Mark Soucy (Leonato), Omar Robinson (Benedick), Esme Allen (Claudio), and Avery Bargar (Don Pedro) in Actors' Shakespeare Project's production of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Christopher V. Edwards.
(© Nile Scott Shots)

Although purists will find plenty to balk about with this contemporary, gender-bending adaptation, there's also a lot to love about this scrumptious and effervescent revival of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Actors' Shakespeare Project's new artistic director, Christopher V. Edwards.

This production marks Edwards's first time at the helm of an Actors' Shakespeare Project show. His adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing goes down easy, fizzing with blissful irresistibility and pure, unadulterated joy. Some of the modern trappings feel forced and not totally justified (it appears to take place in the present day), but it's so much fun, and the cast is so terrific, that anything minutely offensive is forgiven.

Claudio (an excellent Esme Allen) is among Don Pedro's soldiers returning home from a successful battle. They stop in Messina where Claudio falls instantly in love with Hero (the ever-charming Lydia Barnett-Mulligan), daughter of the governor, Leonato (Mark Soucy).

Hero's cousin, Beatrice (played with delicious charisma by Brooke Hardman), picks right up where she left off with her "merry war" with Benedick (a hilarious Omar Robinson), the man she loves to hate. Add Don Pedro's illegitimate brother, Don John, who is dead set on stirring up trouble any way that he can, and all involved seem to be on a crash course for heartbreak and torment.

Without giving too much away about this comedy, Edwards's production is so frequently delightful that it just may be the most fun you'll have at the theater this spring. And with an arsenal of seriously fabulous performances, even when the production becomes less convincing, we are in such good company that it doesn't much matter. And the incorporation of songs by Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, and Amy Winehouse don't hurt, either.

Cambridge's elegant Multicultural Arts Center is lushly decorated by Jon Savage and gorgeously lit by Deb Sullivan, transforming the ornate interior into a kind of airy spring courtyard. Ie Dineen's costumes are firmly rooted in the present, giving the production a timeless quality. And while the acoustics in the space remain a challenge (entire scenes are close to unintelligible), it's a marked improvement over last year's sonically challenged A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Shakespeare purists might not find the reimagining of Claudio as a woman to their liking, making one of the play's central love stories that of a lesbian couple, and efforts to make Much Ado About Nothing a play that speaks to the issues of this era are ultimately a stretch. But to get too caught up in all of that would be to miss out on what is largely pure theatrical elation.

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