'Much Ado About Nothing' Features Sultry Spies, but Where’s 007?

Skin-tight leather. They’re not exactly the first three words that pop into your mind when you think of William Shakespeare (nor should they be). Yet this wardrobe choice is just one in a series of interesting twists that makes a new adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing” so quirky and entertaining to behold.

Courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse
I Spy: Jessica Boevers plays Beatrice, the fierce, sexy love interest of Benedict (Anthony Cochrane) in a spy-themed “Much Ado About Nothing,” currently at the La Jolla Playhouse.

The play, created by Peter Meineck and Robert Richmond, is set in the style of 1960s spy capers, paying tribute to such classics as the James Bond films and “The Avengers.”  Its seductively sheathed women in low-cut Lycra cat suits and colored wigs (a la Jennifer Garner in “Alias”) and 1968 Mini Cooper are all set against the backdrop of an unabashedly massive British flag (which is curious since the play is set in Sicily).  In fact, you might expect Mike Myers to pop out of the trunk in full Austin Powers gear shouting something along the lines of “Oh, behave!” instead of the poetic Shakespearean dialogue that falls so effortlessly from the actors’ lips.

Though the spy theme, while imaginative and amusing, can seem over-the-top and down right cheesy at times, that flaw is happily overlooked by the fact that the the heart of the play really has nothing to do with secret agents.  As always, the comedy explores the fiery essence of romantic love — its heartbreak, its triumph, its struggles and its insecurities.

The tale focuses on two men and two women as they play out a spirited courtship.  The first is the love-hate relationship between the sassy and independent Beatrice (Jessica Boevers) and the cynical, confirmed bachelor Benedick (Anthony Cochrane). Though technically the supporting storyline, Boevers and Cochrane’s sharply witted verbal sparring steals the show and fills the most deliciously clever scenes of the play.

It is their stubbornness and pride that prohibits them from admitting their love for one another until their friends decide to intervene by tricking them into believing that the other is concealing a secret crush. Sharply contrasting them is the romantic and impulsive love between the naive Claudio (John Lavelle) and the sweet Hero (Kathryn Merry). 

“Much Ado” is a complex play that straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy. Claudio and Hero’s love story has all the ingredients of a potentially tragic outcome due to the villainous meddling of an embittered rival, Don John (portrayed by chameleon Louis Butelli, who also plays two other minor characters in the show). It is only narrowly saved from a grim ending by a convenient solution and a happy song, brilliantly composed by the multitalented Cochrane (who oddly resembles a younger James Lipton).

Still, “Much Ado” is a charming and memorable performance, combining the wit of Shakespearean dialogue with physical comedy that beautifully illustrates the humorous elements otherwise hidden in the original text.  Plus, with these dominatrix-style vixens to teach you about the psychedelic side of Shakespeare, who needs Mike Myers?

“Much Ado” plays at La Jolla Playhouse through Feb. 19.  Tickets range from $26 to $55 for students and can be purchased online at www.lajollaplayhouse.com.