Much Ado about nothing, Griffin Theatre Company. There's plenty of disaster potential in a staging that sets Shakespeare's witty romantic comedy in 1945 Italy, overlaying 16th-century repartee with Neapolitan tunes and World War II references ("Is he valiant?" "As Patton, sir!"). But director Richard Barletta has thought through the details to create a universe of near-seamless consistency: Benedick and Claudio are American soldiers stationed in Sicily following the defeat of Mussolini. Signorinas Beatrice and Hero are the daughters of village padrones. And the troublemaking brother of Don Pedro--now Captain Peter--is motivated to villainy after being slighted (or so he claims) for recognition of his wartime valor.
Concept alone cannot make a production, of course, but Griffin Theatre comes through with a cast of hardworking actors, meticulous interpretation of the text, broad but never cartoonish accents, and enough lively shenanigans (particularly in the scenes set around the well, which practically becomes a character in itself) to soften the inevitable rough spots in the analogy. Bradley Woodard and Chiara Mangianmeli are a charming pair of lovers-in-spite-of-themselves, and Bob Kaercher is a suitably avuncular Captain Peter, but Rick Almada's godfatherly Dogberry and Michael Hagedorn's endearingly good-natured Leonato walk away with the honors in this charming and innovative production.
--Mary Shen Barnidge