IF YOU GO
What: Shakespeare's romantic comedy about love-struck Italians
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 21
Where: 701 5th Avenue South, Naples
Cost: $20, adults; $10, students through age 18.
Information: (239) 263-7990, naplesplayers.com
Something else: The downtown parking garages fill up quickly during season. Plan to arrive early or be prepared to hunt for parking.
NAPLES — Brush up your Shakespeare. The Bard of Avon is back in town. The men are packing pistols and the ladies come clad in fashionable prints and razor-sharp stilettos. This mod update of "Much Ado About Nothing" carves a spirited and silly path through Italy and the words of dear old Will.
The play revolves around a pair of lovers - Claudio and Hero - and their matchmaking of Benedick and Beatrice. There's an evil prince - Don John - who wants to mess things up for everybody. There's lots of foolishness with people crawling around balconies, hanging out of windows and having conversations they mean to be overheard. John McKerrow's Benedick winds up wearing a head full of shrubbery at one point.
Director Annette Trossbach, riding herd on her second Shakespeare production this year, moves "Much Ado" into the 1990s, dumping the frills, ruffles and doublets of Elizabethan England. The British accents go into the bin as well - and with them, some of the cadence of Shakespeare's words. There's a different flavor to hearing the dialogue in deliberately American speech patterns - think fish with barbecue sauce - unexpected, not quite unpleasant, but takes getting used to.
In that vein, while Dot Auchmoody's costumes display her usual elegant touch, I'm not entirely sold on the earth tone color palette. The parade of chic yuppie looks in shades of chocolate, ochre, khaki and tan seems unexpectedly muted against the sharp wordplay. Whimsical touches - like Endrizzi's lemon drop tutu - are a literal and figurative bright spot.
Trossbach's creation is a solid, humorous and accessible work - but doesn't grab audiences by the throat the way her superb "MacBeth" did in January. Something of the essential magic and whimsy of "Much Ado" gets a little lost in the four-hundred-year leap forward. The show feels a tiny bit bland, as if someone mistook "modernized" to mean "Americanized" and from there made the short leap to "homogenized."
Rhythms inherent in the dialogue - and how individual actors react to the words themselves - determine much of the flow of the play. The best scenes come when the actors seem to forget they're acting, get caught up in the beauty of the language and just let the words and actions pour out in a flood of laughter and lexicon.
There are a couple of out-of-the-park home runs, the first involving the principal male cast - McKerrow, Mark Vanagas (Don Pedro), Brad Goetz (Claudio) and Bill Ziff-Levine (Leonato). The trio conspires to push Benedick into a romance with the lovely Beatrice, knowing he is eavesdropping on their conversation. Vanagas, Goetz and Ziff-Levine practically dance with merriment about the floor as they deliver their teasing, delight-inducing, fall-down-laughing performance - with McKerrow doing everything but cartwheels on the balcony above them.
Minutes later, the audience gets a repeat of the treat, with Rachael Endrizzi's Hero and Mary Anne McAvoy McKerrow's Ursula staging a hilarious deliberately staged conversation while Laura Needle's Beatrice attempts to crawl out the window directly over their heads. Both scenes crackle with magic as the actors dive into the intricate plots and get lost in the silly - but sparkling - dialogue. Shakespeare's words roll off the tongues like butter - and into the ear like silken threads carried on the lightest of whispers. You'll laugh, you'll cry and you'll wonder why you skipped that Shakespeare course in college.
Two hours of Shakespeare flies by - all 20,000-plus words of it. Watch for Needle, Vanagas and especially Bob Hill, who lifts the foolish constable Dogberry into a genuinely outstanding comic creation.
My Shakespeare book weighed eight pounds and cost $90. Email me at email@example.com or catch me at twitter.com/napleschris.