Here’s a little secret not too many people know: Shakespeare can be fun. Those who’ve only seen very serious (if perfectly pronounced) productions of the Bard’s work will be surprised by Theatre Memphis’ groovy, psychedelic take on Much Ado About Nothing, a nearly exact remount of Bartlett Community Theatre’s popular 2009 production of Shakespeare’s most perfectly titled comedy.
There’s probably no need to recount the plot of this classic battle of the sexes, but here are the bare bones. Benedick, a talkative soldier, and his equally loquacious counterpart, Beatrice, have no use for love and marriage. They are engaged in a “merry war” against these revered institutions and take great delight in slandering each other as well. Clearly, these people were made for one another. Meanwhile, their good friends Claudio and Hero — so head-over-heels in love they can hardly speak — have their wedding plans derailed by Don John, a self-professed villain. Fortunately, Dogberry, a vain constable with a hilariously tenuous command of the language, uncovers Don John’s villainy, ensuring a happy ending.
Director Irene Crist has set Much Ado on a lush suburban lawn and turned the show into a giddy 1960s mashup of Shakespeare, Rowen & Martin’s Laugh In, and Get Smart. Crist has also borrowed a trick or two from the Wes Anderson playbook and uses perfectly chosen bits of mid-20th-century pop, ranging from “California Dreamin’” to obscure gems such as Arthur Brown’s “Fire” to create smooth, meaningful transitions. The best song, however, is a live performance of Shakespeare’s “Sigh No More Ladies,” composed and arranged by Crist’s son, Bennett Foster, of the Magic Kids. — Chris Davis