Chemistry is everything in romance. The folks at Oak Park Festival Theatre prove this again and again over the course of their well-paced, nicely costumed, but ultimately disappointing revival of Shakespeare’s oft-produced comedy (directed by Melanie Keller) about two very different couples and the obstacles they encounter as they try to, well, couple (or, in the case of one pair, avoid coupling).
There is just no chemistry between either set of lovers in the show. When they are apart, Bryan Wakefield and Eunice Woods seem terrific as Benedick and Beatrice, a pair of witty, whip-smart square pegs in a round world; but when they are together the fireworks fizzle. The fact is they don’t seem that into each other. Even when they finally kiss at the end, it feels more like an acting exercise than the real thing. Likewise Ian Michael Minh and Tina El Gamal are duds as Claudio and Hero, though it’s impressive how much verve and energy El Gamal is able to bring out of one of Shakespeare’s shallowest, least developed female characters. But put her onstage opposite Minh, who seems quite lost as Claudio, and all that makes her Hero great melts away.
These four are surrounded by a fine ensemble, most of whom do their best to support the leads. Bret Tuomi doesn’t quite hit all the right comic notes as the foolish Constable Dogberry, though he finds enough to earn some laughs. But with lovers who don’t even seem to like each other in the leads, this romance hits the rocks pretty early, and founders for the rest of the evening. v