By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Summer is Shakespeare season on both sides of the Trinity River. If you like soaking up your classical works in a steam bath with added sound effects from drag racers, police sirens and cicadas, head over to the grassy outdoor amphitheater at Samuell-Grand Park in East Dallas for productions by Shakespeare Dallas. For air-conditioned Bard with comfier seats, look to Fort Worth's Trinity Shakespeare Festival, staging a pair of plays in rotating rep in two theaters on the Texas Christian University campus.
Both companies are presenting Shakespearean rom-coms this year and they are two of his most familiar titles. Shakespeare Dallas has Much Ado About Nothing (in rep with Tartuffe); Trinity Shakes, The Comedy of Errors (alternating with The Tempest).
Take the titles at their word. Much Ado is a big old talky play that works itself into a sweaty lather about absolutely nothing. Lead characters Beatrice (Tiffany Hobbs) and Benedick (Jeffrey Schmidt) are mature singletons who both swear they'll never marry, not anyone, particularly not each other. Then each is tricked into believing the other is in love. Surprise, swoon, smooch. The end.
A vicious subplot has Beatrice's virginal cousin Hero (Audrey Ahern) jilted at the altar by her fiancé, Claudio (Haulston Mann), who has been told Hero was seen talking to another bloke from her bedroom window the night before the wedding. Long scenes of slut-shaming ensue. "Behold how like a maid she blushes here!" Claudio hisses to his bride. Meanie.
A friar (Michael Johnson) suggests Hero pretend to be dead to punish Claudio for doubting and dumping her. A funeral is held. Claudio mourns. Shakespeare had a friar do something similar in Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare must have known some shady friars.
Shakes Dallas' Much Ado is much undone by some oddly inert direction by Patrick Kelly, who blocks actors to stand stiffly in straight lines, speaking to each other in profile. Most of the enormous stage goes unused as scene after scene unfolds in the same spot down center.
Designer Donna Marquet's scenery vaguely suggests an orange grove (Claudio calls Hero a "rotten orange"), though the five abstract green structures planted upstage look less like trees than enormous kitchen mixer beaters.
Hobbs, a member of Dallas Theater Center's acting company, and Schmidt, returning to acting after several years as a director and designer at Theatre Three, achieve a pleasant, if not intensely sexual, chemistry late in the second half of the play. Till then, Hobbs shouts her lines and Schmidt declaims his in a purring voice that sounds like William Shatner reciting "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."
Running time is two hours. In outdoor Shakespeare snacking terms, that's about one bottle of wine, half a pound of cheese and a box of Triscuits. Pack picnic baskets accordingly.