Saturday, June 8, 2013

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING: Joss Whedon does Shakespeare--American and very well

What a treat it is to see Shakespeare done well by Americans, and on film (well, video), at that -- to hear the language spoken by people who understand the meaning of what they are saying, and so are able to communicate that meaning to those of us listening and grappling once again with Elizabethan language. It's not easy, as most productions of Shakespeare, pro and non-pro here in the USA, quickly prove. In my experience in New York City for over fifty years, only The Pearl Theater is able to do this on stage time and time again, helping audiences finally understand why Shakespeare's plays (and the rest of the classics that it mounts) are indeed the classics we've been told since childhood that they were. (I've even seen British productions in which, yes, the actors got the words right, but much of the feeling and most of the intention have gone missing.)

How lovely that Joss Whedon, shown at left and evidently a big Shakespeare fan, was able to round up actors he knew and prized and let them go to town on one of the Bard's better comedies, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. The result is fine American Shakespeare in which dialog is spoken easily, fluently and naturally and will probably surprise some of you who feel that these words are somehow beyond your understanding. You won't maybe get them all, but you'll come, as they say, close enough for jazz. Mr. Whedon has also managed to set the play in our very modern times and make it work without a hitch. The mansion and estate in and on which his version takes place proves a perfect manifestation of our current "court" life amongst the "entitled."

The filmmaker has also pared down the Bard to quite good effect (for movie audiences, at least). I didn't find myself missing much of anything. His choice of music is often sublime, as well, and his staging of a party scene, complete with masks, music and acrobats seems both Elizabethan and contemporary.

Whedon also cleverly, amusingly uses today's kitchen (above) as a fine place to overhear conversations, and his scene in the swimming pool (below) is remarkable: quietly hilarious and kind of creepy, too. But it is probably the wedding scene (and a couple of those following) that will clinch it for you. Turning the themes of Othello on their head and using them for feel-good comedy, Shakespeare is able to show us man's (and woman's) jealousy, hypocrisy and stupidity so well, and Whedon and his fine cast give us joy, sorrow, rage and surprise in equal measure. Beatrice's "Kill Claudio" carries more shock and weight here than I have ever heard before.

The downside? Just the usual: Dogberry is perhaps the Bard's least funny comic character and, in my experience, unsalvageable by any actor, so while Nathan Fillion (below, right) -- a performer I much admire -- plays him way down and so is much less annoying the was Michael Keaton in Kenneth Branagh's film of 20 years ago, there is still little else to do but sit there and wait for this tiresome, one-note character and his entourage to exit.

As our feisty-but-enchanting B&B, Amy Acker (below, right, and three photos above) and Alexis Denisof (below, left) are both exactly that; they make the dialog fun and new all over again. Jillian Morgese (at left in photo at bottom) makes a lovely and virginal Hero, with Fran Kranz's Claudio (center, two photos below) her dim and easily-suggestible beau.

Clark Gregg (below, right, is a terrific Leonato), Reed Diamond (a studly Don Pedro) and Sean Maher (a fine and despicable Don John) round out the major ensemble. The lush and graceful black-and-white cinematography by Jay Hunter is everything you could want, as is the movie's just-right, 107-minute running time.

Much Ado About Nothing -- from Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions -- opened yesterday, June 7, in Manhattan (Landmark's Sunshine and the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater and the EBMFC), Los Angeles (The Landmark, and the Arclight Hollywood) and San Francisco (the Cinemark Century Centre 9), with other cities chiming in soon, as the rollout continues.

No comments: