Much Ado About Nothing is one of William Shakespeare’s few comedies to eschew the trope of having a woman spend most of the show disguised as a dude, and its plot hinges entirely on the willingness of two supposedly honorable men to discount the word of a woman they claim to love. So there’s something admirably perverse about Taffety Punk Theatre Company’s selection of it for their all-distaff Riot Grrrl treatment. This is their fourth Shakespeare to bar participation by lords as surely its original Elizabethan production would’ve barred participation by ladies. Set in a honky-tonk bar bedecked with posters you’ll want to steal on your way out—-Hatch Show Print-style bills promoting gigs by the likes of Earl Scruggs, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams Sr., and Loretta Lynn, she of “Rated X” and “The Pill”—-and featuring a folky live song-track by Kathy Cashel, director Eleanor Holdridge’s new gloss on the tale of two romances nearly undone by false witness is a swaggering, toilet-seat-up-leaving hoot.
Aaaaaand it’s two-and-a-half hours long, but what can you do? It’s not called Some Ado About Nothing. While in theory anything branding itself under the “riot grrrrl” rubric should probably at least aim for the speed and pith of a Bratmobile tune, to complain about the show’s determination to amuse us this much for this long for the low-low Taffety Punk tariff of $10 would be ungrateful. The only scenes that feel long are those involving the hapless Constable Dogberry (Kimberly Schraf, hardworking but miscast) and his pursuit of the slanderers Don John (Tiernan Madorno) and Borachio (Katie Molinaro, whom you’d expect on the evidence of her take-no-prisoners Capital Fringe solo show On the Rag to Riches to summon more bile than she manages here).
Even so, it’s no failing of the rest of the bench that you kind of come to resent every second that Kimberly Gilbert’s Benedick isn’t onstage, because with apologies to, well, someone, it’s the role she was born to play. This bachelor-soldier’s precoital calumniation with Beatrice (Tonya Beckman Ross, just as fine) set the template for every couple that’s badmouthed each other all the way to the boudoir for 400 years. Gilbert stomps around in Benedick’s combat boots, sucking down longnecks of Bud while lamenting his pal Claudio’s susceptibility to Hero, a nobleman’s daughter, virtuous but docile. (To his eternal credit, Benedick is the only man here who doesn’t conflate the two.) “He was wont to speak plain and to the purpose, like an honest man and a soldier;” she fumes, briefly affecting a Brit accent to continue, “and now is he turned orthography! His words are a very fantastical banquet, just so many strange dishes!”
The other outstanding performance comes from Jessica Lefkow as Hero’s father, Leonto. When she’s accused of fornication, Lefkow lets us feel the wound in Leonto’s fatherly pride. She also cuts an enviably dashing figure in the three-piece-suit provided him by costumer Sarah Kendrick. Or provided her. You know what I’m trying to say.
The Riot Grrrls Shakespeare production of Much Ado About Nothing runs through Sept. 24 at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop.