by Punch Shaw, Special to the Star-Telegram
FORT WORTH — In our efforts to show Shakespeare’s works the respect they deserve, we may sometimes be guilty of the overstating the case.
We tend to isolate his plays in their own festivals, update them with garishly elaborate productions and place them on a pedestal so they might look down their noses at lesser works.
So thank goodness for the Stolen Shakespeare Guild and its presentations of the Bard’s works that remind us as that these are just great, entertaining plays that stand on their own without the aid of an adoring context, star actors or grandiose production values.
All it takes to do Shakespeare well is a capable director and cast who love and understand the texts, as is the case with the company’s current production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Sanders Theatre in the Fort Worth Community Arts Center.
This romantic comedy, which makes merry with parallel plot lines about love’s labors getting twisted by confusion, is well-played by a sprawling cast whose members all seem to know what is really going on (not something that can always be taken for granted with Shakespeare). The direction, credited to Jason Morgan with Lauren Morgan, deserves kudos for maintaining a brisk pace, making good use of the minimal set and props, and keeping the many players singing in the same key.
The standout performance in this production is found in a surprising place. Allen Walker, as Leonato (the father of Hero, one of the female love interests) makes a minor role major by being casual and offhanded when appropriate, but also finding fire and thunder when it is needed.
Walker is a key part of a moment in the second act, where this production peaks. Until this point, all has been sweetness and light. But when Hero (Samantha Chancellor) is falsely accused of betraying her fiance, things take a darker turn. And Walker, Chancellor and J King (the very perceptive Friar Francis) join forces to make the scene absolutely riveting.
You will walk out of the theatre in the glow of having just spent a couple of hours with Shakespeare’s wonderful poetry and the broad range of human emotions he lays bare in those lines. And, when it comes to theater, it just doesn’t get any better than that.
Much Ado About Nothing performs in the Sanders Theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center through February 21st. Tickets on sale now through Theatre Mania (866-811-4111), by going to the Stolen Shakespeare Guild website or at the Box Office starting one hour before any performance.