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Updated `Ado' a one-day hit

It's not unusual for productions of William Shakespeare's plays to be set in modern times, but the Aquila Theatre Company's touring production of "Much Ado About Nothing" went a step further.

Aquila's version of the play, staged at Popejoy Hall Sunday, was done in a satirical style that borrowed from popular Hollywood fare such as Austin Powers and James Bond movies.

Against a glowing backdrop, men posed with their guns as if they were television cops in the heat of the chase. The women practiced martial arts in their spare time, clad in tight black leather outfits.

The one-time performance at Popejoy Hall was nearly sold out. Its combination of pop-culture references and Shakespearean language blended smoothly, and the script came to life almost as if it were brand new. A few jumbled lines and other minor mishaps occurred, but, overall, the insightful acting, physical comedy and minimal design combined for a buoyant, entertaining production.

The Aquila Theatre Company is a troupe of professional actors from the United States and England. The company was founded in 1991 and has toured extensively in Europe, the United States and Canada. Its production of "Much Ado About Nothing" will be staged in New York City in May 2001.

The play is a romantic comedy about the war between the sexes. The men in the play suffer from a fear and mistrust of women.

The story begins with the victorious arrival of Lords Benedick and Claudio, who have been off at war. They spend a month at Governor Leonato's house and discover that the battle of the sexes can be trickier than fighting a sword-bearing army.

Claudio, played by Noah Trepanier, immediately falls for Leonato's daughter, Hero, played by Shirleyann Daladjian. She figures Claudio is a good match, so she goes along with his advances. But the impending marriage is nearly wrecked by villain Don John, who deceives Claudio into thinking Hero has taken a lover. Claudio, with his innate fear of women, takes the bait.

Meanwhile, Benedick is embroiled in a "merry war" with Beatrice, Leonato's niece. Benedick and Beatrice, portrayed skillfully by Anthony Cochrane and Lisa Carter, continually pit their wits against each other, delighting in the exchange of verbal jabs.

"I would rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me," Beatrice said.

"God keep your ladyship in that mind!" answers Benedick.

So, Leonato, played by Alex Webb, engineers a ploy to bring them together, using deception to reveal the truth. This turns out to be one of the funnier parts of the play. Beneath their tough facades, Benedick and Beatrice need love and affection as much as everyone else, and it is clear that they enjoy each other's company.

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Some of the best moments in the performance came during Benedick's soliloquies. Cochrane, a fine Shakespearean actor and the associate director of the company, did an excellent job of expressing Benedick's inner confusion and self-mockery.

Louis Butelli, playing Constable Dogberry, was hilarious as he doggedly investigated the plot to dishonor Hero. Using a style of interrogation that would have made the Three Stooges proud, Dogberry and his partner, Verges, uncover Don John's treachery, saving Hero from suicide. This assures that "Much Ado About Nothing" ends happily, as comedies are supposed to.

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