KPBS AIRDATE: January 25, 1995
Disappointment. Failed relationships. Fear of commitment. Vicious rumors. There may be 400 years between them in the writing, but the themes are not dissimilar. Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy, “Much Ado About Nothing” and a brand-new, twenty-something antic apologia, “X,” which could be subtitled “Much Ado About Not Much.”
“X” was conceived by Lara Hope and Katie Rodda to set the record straight. They’re tired of the slacker reputation of Generation X. They’re even tired of that worn old moniker. But they spend two hours telling us why all that bad press may, in fact, be justified. These are, after all, latchkey kids who’ve raised themselves, with the help of that ubiquitous baby-sitter, the boob-tube. Born into a world of assassinations and demonstrations, Vietnam and Watergate, they grew up with TV violence; an escalating divorce rate; two career, dysfunctional families and myriad mixed messages.
The episodic performance piece was showcased at last year’s San Diego Actors Festival, in a 45-minute version. That would seem to be about right. It doesn’t take two hours to tell this story, which is not to say that it shouldn’t be told. This is a generation that’s misunderstood by the very people who created it. The anger, angst and resentment are important. But they could be conveyed in a less direct, on-the-nose kind of way. Less monologic diatribe. Less melodrama. The script needs editing and the production needs an outside director.
But the energy level of the five cast members is high; the two writers are particularly strong. There’s lots of promise here, but it needs shape and focus. Despite all the grousing, grumbling and blame, they leave us on a very positive note, with personal confessions of the un-slacker-like political involvement of everyone in the cast. And that’s much ado about something, indeed.
Now, back to the Bard. It’s a joy to see him rejuvenated. To hear audiences laughing hysterically at four century-old humor. Old Globe artistic director Jack O’Brien has mounted a joyful production of “Much Ado,” to kick off the Globe’s 60th anniversary. He’s turned everything on its ear. He’s set the play in 19th century Catholic-ruled, Goya-drenched Spain instead of 13th century Italy. This works wonderfully, and provides a great excuse for some terrific live Spanish/classical guitar-playing.
He cast the brilliantly acid-tongued Beatrice and Benedick as aging unmarrieds rather than callow ingénues, and he doesn’t hide their age; he celebrates it. Globe veterans Richard Easton and Katherine McGrath make it work, giving an intriguing new twist to the characters and their relationship.
Most risky of all, O’Brien has turned the blackhearted villain Don John into a klutzy comic. I don’t know about that one…..
Maybe there’s a bit too much slapstick in this production. Maybe some of the shtick leans toward the silly. Maybe Don John shouldn’t join in the festivities at the end. But these are fairly picky points. It’s Shakespeare, and it’s fun. It’s colorful, exuberant and accessible. Which only goes to prove that old-timers still make for a damn good time.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.