This is a solid, if unexciting, production of Shakespeare's comedy, highlighted by the performances of Melora Marshall as Beatrice and Jim LeFave as Benedick, under the direction of Ellen Geer. Much of the joy of shows at the Theatricum is not only the wonderful setting but also the family feeling that is the legacy of Will Geer. In this production, there are (at least) four family members involved: director Geer, who is Will's daughter; Marshall, who is the daughter of Will's widow, Herta Ware, and two of Will's grandchildren, Megan Geer-Alsop as Hero and Ian Flanders as a watchman.
While this may seem to the cynic to be theatrical nepotism, the family connection actually adds to the intimate vibrancy of the production, as well as making perfect sense in this tale of extended Italian families. As always, it is the wonderful approach to acting that is the hallmark of the Geer legacy—a classical tone combined with an earthy, fiery political and community spirit. Both Marshall and LeFave make the most of the legacy by reaching out to the audience with spirited, expressive performances. We have no trouble believing Marshall as the stubborn Beatrice, holding out for the right man—or no man at all if the right one doesn't come along. And LeFave is terrific as a playful, appealing Benedick who has lots of love to shower on the right woman.
While the rest of the cast never captures the energy of Marshall and LeFave, Tom Allard is a noteworthy Leanato, finding just the right mixture of parental love and disapproval, while Gerald Rivers is terrific as Dogberry, evoking echoes of a modern urban sheriff amid the Shakespearean puns. Aaron Hendry is also a solid Don Pedro, and Geer-Alsop is fine as Hero, especially in the climactic wedding scene.
The production values are rustic, as usual, perhaps a bit threadbare for the play, and the use of music in the background is often distracting. However, Geer's sharp direction of the actors makes up for these shortcomings in the production.
"Much Ado About Nothing," presented by and at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. Sun. 4 p.m. ???-Sept. 30. $11-20. (310) 455-3723.