Maggie Siff and Jonathan Cake in "Much Ado About Nothing."

Maggie Siff and Jonathan Cake in "Much Ado About Nothing." Credit: Maggie Siff and Jonathan Cake in "Much Ado About Nothing."

Much Ado About Nothing
2 stars

After an extended wait, Off-Broadway's Theatre for a New Audience will finally move into a newly built Elizabethan-style theater in Downtown Brooklyn. This marks its final year at the Duke, a rentable space in Times Square.

To start the season, it is presenting Shakespeare's romantic comedy "Much Ado About Nothing," which has not received a major New York production since a well-received 2004 Shakespeare in the Park staging with Jimmy Smits and Kristen Johnston.

The play mainly observes an attempt by the hateful brother of Prince Don Pedro to defame the reputation of Hero, a young girl about to be married to Don Pedro's army pal Claudio, by convincing everyone through a carefully plotted scheme that she is a prostitute.

However, it is best known for featuring the eternally sparring duo of Beatrice and Benedict (here played by Maggie Siff and Jonathan Cake), who have previously engaged in a war of witty repartee and get tricked by the other characters into finally admitting their feelings for each other.

"Much Ado" is a strange selection for the company, which is best known for its intimate revivals of darker Shakespeare plays like "Othello," "The Merchant of Venice" and "Cymbeline."

Director Arin Arbus awkwardly ignores the play's sunny tone, leading to a gloomy, slow-moving production. Furthermore, the lack of scenery makes it hard to capture the setting of a wealthy Italian estate. Frankly, when was the last time you saw any professional production played out in front of a plain black curtain?

While Siff comes off as a depressed and stiff Beatrice, Cake makes a superb, very funny transition from loud, bombastic, fully bearded soldier to clueless, sincere, cleanly shaven lover as Benedict.

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