MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Accidental Theater Ensemble, at Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ, Baird Hall. The ado in this earnest effort isn’t quite nothing, but it comes damn close. These Columbia College students and graduates give the play that old college try, but the result is not ready for prime time.

Part of the problem is the auditorium, which has no AC and poor acoustics. Echoes force the actors to shout, and because they try too hard, they end up losing almost every laugh. (The sight gags are often clumsy but fare better.) You’d never know from this production that Much Ado is a comedy. At the play’s heart are Beatrice and Benedick, two cranks who, like Katharina in The Taming of the Shrew, need a good excuse to sacrifice their freedom for love. Christopher Walsh captures Benedick’s bluster but misses his wit, while Amanda Harbut plays Beatrice all on the same level of bemused curiosity. As Hero and Claudio, Donna Scheffki and Bryce Woodard are nice when they should be interesting.

Michael Kostel’s staging, halfheartedly set in the 1940s, is odd, inexplicably transforming old Leonato into a young woman (who improbably challenges a soldier to a duel) and blocking the characters like chess pieces. Attempting to clone Groucho, Carl Wisniewski depicts language-mangling Dogberry with frenetic cluelessness, sacrificing verbal humor to shtick. Most annoying is Dan Telfer, who as Balthazar deliberately screeches out the lovely ballad “Sigh No More” with ear-splitting ugliness: our reaction is “scream no more, please.” –Lawrence Bommer