Optimist’s ‘Much Ado’ best in memory with Shakespeare at the Peck

By JULIE McHALE - Post Theater Critic

July 13, 2017

Todd Denning as Benedick and Kelley Faulkner as Beatrice in the Optimist Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” at the outdoor Marcus Center’s Peck Pavilion.
Michelle Owczarski

MILWAUKEE - The Optimist Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park could be called Shakespeare in the Peck this year. This year’s venue is lovely and very accessible.

Despite the fact that rain and a sudden drop in temperature caused some discomfort on Friday evening, and the sounds of motorcycle and sirens occasionally invaded the hallowed grounds, the hearty troupe overcame all obstacles and put on a fantastic interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s best comedies - “Much Ado about Nothing.” I can’t recall ever seeing a better rendition of it.

This is a story of love and revenge and hasty judgments.

Shakespeare is up to his usual tricks - eavesdropping, mistaken identities, doggerel humor, smitten lovers, but this one features a duo that mightily resists marriage.

Beatrice and Benedick are two of the wittiest, commitment-phobic individuals to hit the stage.  They represent all those (and there are many) who swear that they’ll never succumb to the power of love and its ensuing ramifications, but who eventually do, despite their spirited protestations to the contrary.

Director Tom Reed has gathered a very Shakespeare-savvy troupe of performers who make the Bard very accessible. Shakespeare’s witty and beautiful words flew off their tongues with ease, which is not always the case with his antiquated language.

This play could just as well have been called “Matchmaking.” It seems that everyone wants to get in on the act when it comes to pairing up people. The focus here is on Claudio and Hero, and the aforementioned Beatrice and Benedick - one pair very ripe for a permanent alliance; and the other, very resistant.

Eventually all’s well that ends well, but the fun (and pain) come from the journey to get there.

There wasn’t one weak link in the cast, but some of the standouts include Kelley Faulkner (her best performance yet) and Todd Denning as the dueling pair, Beatrice and Benedick; Di’Monte Henning as the lovesick Claudio and his besmirched wife-to-be Hero, played by Candace Thomas; James Pickering as the outrageous Dogberry; and Jonathan Wainwright as the sour avenger Don John.

The set designed by Ron Scot Fry served the action well. The musical interludes, the pacing and the choreography all made the evening fly by in delightful measure.

Support this gem of a theater group. Since our Milwaukee Shakespeare Company folded some years ago, there has been a paucity of Shakespeare productions. It is nice to see that some dedicated people are trying to keep his inimitable masterpieces alive.


“Much Ado About Nothing”

The comedy runs at 8 p.m. daily through Sunday and Thursday through July 22, as well as at noon Tuesday at the Peck Pavilion at the Marcus Center of the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St. All performances are general seating. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.