Much Ado About Nothing, Signal Ensemble Theatre, at the Athenaeum Theatre. The tragedies and histories may gush more blood, but for all their ferocity, they've got nothing on the archaic sexism of Shakespeare's comedies. The troubles visited on their luckless heroines often seem sprung from the savage mind of a 13-year-old patriarch, and the underlying complacency throws it all into stark relief--to a modern audience, more than a few of the insults and agonies inflicted are wildly alienating, especially in the context of light entertainment, and their resolutions are even more dumbfounding. Case in point: Much Ado About Nothing, in which the ingenue Hero is courted by proxy, engaged without consult, doubted without hesitation, tried in absentia, found guilty on the word of a cartoon villain, and subjected to a shockingly over-the-top public humiliation by her husband-to-be. Then he forgives her and everything's OK.
Of course, wily Bill may just've been 300 years ahead of the Brechtian curve in terms of intentional alienation. And it's not a thoroughgoing motif; even in Much Ado, some counterpoint is provided via the (relatively) progressive couple of Benedick and Beatrice. Still, by the end of the play, you almost feel like you're watching a wedding on Mars.
Even at their worst, however, Shakespeare's comedies come stuffed with lyrical fireworks and choice bits of timeless idiocy. The Signal players, directed by Ronan Marra, take a good crack at both. Aaron Snook brings some desperately needed charm to the hotheaded Claudio, Joseph Stearns and Christopher Prentice back him up with wit and poise, and Melanie Keller's excellent Beatrice evokes Rosalind Russell. As usual, though, the clowns--Brandon Bruce and Ronald Kuzava--steal the show.