This year's OSF staging falls somewhere between the two movies in atmosphere -- it has a Mediterranean visual style not unlike the Branagh film, but the execution is distinctly modern. It's funny where it needs to be -- one of the best running gags has Rex Young's Dogberry zipping around on a Segway, and Christiana Clark makes an especially energetic Beatrice. It's also provocative where it needs to be -- actress Regan Linton plays a wheelchair-bound Don John with credible bitterness, lending an intriguing dimension to the darker side of the play's storyline.
The trouble is simply that while there's nothing really wrong with the production, it just doesn't sparkle as brightly as OSF's home-run shows of the current season -- it lacks the zip of Head Over Heels or Guys & Dolls, and can't match a play like Sweat on the social-relevance scale. It's simply a very good staging caught among a handful of flat-out spectacular shows, and it can't help but feel a little bit overwhelmed by comparison. For what it's worth, I'd count Much Ado as the slightly better show of the two Shakespeare plays we saw -- Antony & Cleopatra is a bit more unevenly executed.
In terms of the weekend as a whole, though, this feels like one of OSF's strongest recent seasons, and I'd happily go back to catch several of the shows we missed on this visit (notably Pericles and The Count of Monte Cristo, though tickets for the former are reportedly very hard to come by at this point).
*Our nominal tour leader (an English professor from my alma mater) would argue with me about this. She expressed the opinion several times during the tour that Much Ado is possibly Shakespeare's *best* comedy in terms of craft and characterization, which is one of the reasons she chose to have the group see it rather than the Festival's production of The Count of Monte Cristo on the outdoor Elizabethan stage. Me, I'd have picked Monte Cristo....