The idea that William Shakespeare's language is formal and difficult comes from the social awkwardness of reading “Romeo and Juliet” aloud in eighth grade English class, but in the right hands, Shakespeare is eternal and elastic. In the case of this radiant new production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” those hands belong to director Joss Whedon.
Shakespeare's “Much Ado About Nothing” is the “patient zero” of romantic comedies, which means the extended garden party at the heart of the story works whether it's set in 16th century Sicily or 21st century Santa Monica, Calif. It scarcely matters that the dialogue is 415 years old — Shakespeare's text comes alive so vividly because Whedon, the creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and director of “Marvel's The Avengers,” is a proven master at projecting supernaturalistic banter and interplay. He also has a keen eye for game talent, and his Whedonverse repertory players, especially leads Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, are as merry as the day is long.
This time out, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), Benedick (Denisof) and Claudio (Fran Kranz of “The Cabin in the Woods”) show up at the estate of Leonato (Clark Gregg) wearing dark suits instead of tights, but the idea is the same.
Claudio immediately falls for Hero (relative newcomer Jillian Morgese) while Benedick trades barbs with Beatrice (Acker) and tries to deny his attraction before succumbing to her willful charms.
Then, due to the treachery of Don John (Sean Maher), Claudio is convinced that Hero is less than virtuous, but as a later Shakespeare comedy made clear, all's well that ends well.