It's one week after the events of Much Ado About Nothing. Benedick and Beatrice are married, while the evil Don John languishes in prison. In a thinly veiled setup, Queen Elizabeth requests a sequel because she has troubling questions spurred by the original's conclusion. Shakespeare, embodied as a dithering fop by Scott Greenwood, launches into playwright Joan Silsby's world premiere work. Adapted from a self-published novelization, Silsby's smartly constructed script is certainly no lengthier than that penned by the Bard. It just feels that way because of a continuum of uneven performances and Jim Blanchette's sluggish direction.
Don John, played by Matthew St. James in one of the evening's more palatable turns, is released from prison to salvage his reputation and freedom by marrying Benedick's sister, Allegra, an up-and-coming novitiate. Along the way, this couple, whose scenes are strangely reminiscent of the Kate-Petruchio chemistry, encounters Don Pedro, Count Claudio, and the gang. Silsby's language contains the right amount of the antiquities associated with the Bard's works, yet most of the cast seems incapable of making sense of it. Kyle Kulish's shiftless turn as the sputtering Constable Dogberry, marked by Silsby's intentionally mixed-up word choices ("exfoliate" instead of "explain"), could have been a show stealer. So, too, with Nadia Van De Ven's insomnia-curing appearance as the ghost of Don John's former wife, Marisol. Contrarily, a lovely reprieve occurs whenever the storyline treats us to Wendy Gough's Allegra, or Rasool Jahan as Claudio's wife, Hero. Grasping the material's prose and ever so slightly elevated performance style while remaining true to the time period and avoiding the tendency to exaggerate, these two are a refreshing respite.
Providing various locations and levels accessed by steps, ramps, and a multitude of entryways, John Lant's set- and lighting designs are more than adequate. Jackie DiGiovanni's costuming is lushly eye-pleasing, particularly Queen Elizabeth's ensemble. Finally, kudos to St. James and to Adam Legg, playing Claudio, for their unhesitant execution of fight choreographer Ron Ransen's all-too-welcome, edge-of-your-seat, fifth-act swordplay. Would that the show as a whole had lived up to these production waterlines.
Presented by and at Write Act Repertory Theater, 6128 Yucca St., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. Sun. 6 p.m. (Dec. 12 only.) Nov. 11-Dec. 12. (323) 769-6231.