Sunday, April 27, 2014

Much Ado About Nothing


I have handed in my resignation to the staff at Camp Sisterwood and have officially washed my hands of their project, Bodice Ripper. Let them find someone else to try and turn their motley crew of jackbooted truck drivers into a set of ethereal ladies of the evening for their feminist take on the Jack the Ripper story. I am too old, at my ever youthful thirty-nine, to put up with such nonsense. Of course this does leave me somewhat at loose ends as there is no project lined up. I have telephoned Joseph, my manager, to immediately signal my availability as an artist to discriminating producers of quality entertainments but nothing is on the immediate horizon. Vera Charles and I have had a few additional conversations about the proposed musical blending elements of The Lord of the Flies and Sense and Sensibility, but I am only interested if I can play Elinor Dashwood. She has this wonderful second act number where she shoves Colonel Brandon off a cliff, splitting his skull. Unfortunately, the producers seem to have promised the part to Ashlee Simpson.

I am using the unexpected hiatus to catch up on things at Chateau Maine. Normy is composing again and promises to come up with some new nightclub material worthy of my talents. He's working on some special arrangements of Iraqi folk tunes for an up to date political cabaret show we've been toying with. I've also had to pay some attention to the various businesses making up MNM enterprises. VickiWear sales are down 17% over last quarter. I had to spend quite some time with the executives of Pic and Save on the telephone this morning, getting them to place my merchandise in more prominent positions for the holiday season. We have a new line of women's sleepwear, based on the costumes for 'Peter Pan' which should do quite well if they would move it out from behind the Anna Nicole Smith display. I have high hopes for both the Nana and the Hook models.

I was able to grab a few hours in the home theater late in the afternoon and put my feet up with a comfortable chenille throw, a chocolate martini, and Patrick, the cat curled up beside me. In surfing the film channels, I ran across Kenneth Brannagh's 1993 film adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing with him and then wife, Emma Thompson as Beatrice and Benedick, the famous battling lovers. Being an aficionado of Shakespeare, and an even greater one of Ms. Thompson, I settled in for a lovely time amongst the cadences of renaissance iambic pentameter.

Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare's mature comedies. In it, two pairs of lovers find each other despite romantic complications. The first pair, Beatrice and Benedick, are too smart and saucy for their own good and need to be brought together by the machinations of their friends as they are both too intellectual and too witty to attend to the simpler emotional needs of life like love. The second pair, Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) and Hero (Kate Beckinsale), are a more chaste courtship, that is nearly undone when the villain, Don John (Keanu Reeves) tries to stain Hero's virginal reputation in the eyes of her father (Richard Briers) and community. It's up to Don John's brother, Don Pedro (Denzel Washington) and a comic relief constable, Dogberry (Michael Keaton) to help sort everything out so the right people come together at the right time for the obligatory happy ending.

Shakespeare's comedies are somewhat short on plot, relying instead on the beauties of language and character development to carry an audience through several hours of enchantment. This is not as easy to do on film as on the stage which is why there are fewer successful film versions of the comedies than of the great tragedies. Brannagh tries to make up for this general weakness by setting the film in an idyllic Tuscan pastoral where lovely vistas and visuals similar to Italian tourist board brochures make up for the occasional lack of substance. The whole cast run about in unbleached linen ensembles of vaguely nineteenth century cut, rather as if Matthew Brady had been shooting Ralph Lauren Vanity Fair layouts and the film takes place in a lovely villa that looks like a discarded location for Under the Tuscan Sun.

The look is charming and the whole thing whizzes along on the backs of effortless performances by certain members of the cast. Thompson and Brannagh give definitive performances as Beatrice and Benedick. The chemistry the two had as a personal and performing team at the time is in every frame and the film feels a little empty when we have to leave them and move on to other areas of the plot. They are ably helped by British Shakespeareans such as Briers, Imelda Staunton, Brian Blessed and Phyllida Law (Thompson's mother) in supporting parts. As the romantic leads, Leonard and Beckinsale look sensational and are adequate in their declamation of the text, but there's no real spark there.

The film falls down in some of the stunt casting. When American movie stars are put in filmed Shakespeare opposite trained British Shakespeareans, they almost always suffer. It happens here. An exception is Denzel Washington who, surprisingly, manages to hold his own and his racial background actually enhances his portrayal by helping set him apart from the rest of the cast, a role very much played by Don Pedro in the plot; he's always the outsider looking in. On the other hand, Michael Keaton is pretty atrocious as Dogberry, one of the great Shakespearean clowns. Keaton mumbles through his lines as if he were portraying Beetlejuice on valium. He's amazingly irritating, even when he's understandable. Keanu Reeves continues his reputation as an amazing physical actor who's hopeless with text. He's wonderful as the villain skulking in the background, and then he opens his mouth.

Fortunately, the good far outweighs the bad and this remains one of the better film adaptations of a Shakespeare play. It's a good introduction to the comedies of the bard and might lead people to a further exploration of his work.

Rural shower scene. Naked soldiers at play. Masked ball fireworks. Servant impersonation. Fountain dancing. Watteau swinging. Jilting. Comic guardsmen. Blond tenor. Happy ending.

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