Last night we saw Much Ado About Nothing, with James Earl Jones as Benedict and Vanessa Redgrave as Beatrice, and many other good actors as the rest of the characters, whose names I don't have because we didn't spring for the program (although now I wish we had--I really want to know who played the Prince, because he was great). Mark Rylance was the director, and the conceit he used was a bunch of American soldiers, headed by a general with a chest full of medals, billeted on an English country house during WWII. The stage was bare but for a single large structure like a covered bridge, an arm-chair, and a victrola. The costumes were WWII utilitarian, with khaki uniforms all around for the men, land-girlish outfits for the women, and very few bright colors outside of Hero's orange gown for the big feast.
I have no quarrel with the conceit. It works conceptually, with the Dogberry and the rest as air-raid wardens and the clowns as boy-scouts and Claudio as a flying ace, even with Beatrice and Benedict as older lovers, set in their ways and disinclined to give up their freedom (although it might have worked better 15 years ago, when they were middle-aged rather than verging on elderly). What kept the play from gelling, for me, was the direction. It didn't seem to have a firm logic behind it. I didn't feel that the characters cohered. The Prince was good--kind of McArthurish, kind of waggish, kind of irritating in a very powerful male way. Redgrave was Redgrave, and very, very charming--with that beautiful, flexible voice and that firm command of gesture and expression. Jones seemed a little at sea with Benedict, however, and not at all comfortable in his body. And everybody else was all over the place. It was like Rylance was directing them all to be Rylance, like Robin Williams on downers, and they just couldn't do it. Plus--I hold no brief for miked productions, and was very happy to see one where the actors were just using lungs and craft to speak the lines. But when characters are directed to speak over each other, naturalistically, and mutter to themselves, well, lines get lost. Sometimes important lines.
So, no. I didn't love it. I'm glad we went, though. It made me think. Besides, the theater was nice and warm, and I'd been cold all day.