Camus once wrote, “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer, ” a sentiment that in the middle of this cold season informs the warm directorial hand of Canadian Marti Maraden and her accessible, audience-pleasing and funny production of “Much Ado About Nothing” for the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. From the sun-drenched Mediterranean courtyard and boysenberry-colored skies of designers Patrick Clark and Marcus Doshi’s beautiful Messina setting to the sprightly sparring between the Bard’s famously bickering Beatrice and Benedick (aptly described by noted Shakespearean director Tina Packer as “fighting gamecocks transformed into lovebirds”), this “Much Ado” visually and temperamentally basks in a sunny disposition from start to finish. And since there are no radical reinterpretations to be found here, Shakespearean purists need not worry. This is a production that doesn’t bother with any deep explorations into the text’s more serious narrative strands of spurned love, male-bonding misogyny or cold-hearted parental rejection that have informed recent, darker stagings abroad. Personally, I think that even a Shakespearean soufflé of a comedy like “Much Ado” can have the deepest effect in the same way that the deceptively simple lyrics of a Jobim-penned Bossa Nova song can, by offering a gentle mix of the sweet and the sour, the playful and the serious. But this is a cavil for a production whose comic joie de vivre is indisputably contagious and that boasts a Beatrice and Benedick (Kelli Fox and Jim Mezon) who clearly win over their audience by proving that intellectual attraction can sometimes be very, very sexy. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
“Much Ado About Nothing” plays at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier, 800 East Grand, (312)595-5600, through February 26.