A good argument for love

Much Ado About Nothing, She Loves Me

Much Ado About Nothing and She Loves Me alternate showtimes at 8 p.m. Thusday, Friday, Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday; $15-$35. Veterans Memorial Theatre, 203 E. 14th Street in Davis; (530) 802-0998; www.shakespearedavis.org. Through August 3.
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There's an ambitious new summer theater festival in Davis, and the project has launched with a polished pair of well-mounted shows.

The Davis Shakespeare Festival is staging two indoor shows in repertory, with two Actors' Equity Association professionals, plus conservatory-trained talent, well-chosen community actors and live music. It's the kind of smart summer series—mixing Shakespeare with contemporary work—that I've been hoping to see locally for, oh, about 20 years.

Never question the clueless constable.

Photo by Daniel Salas

Naturally, there's a Shakespeare comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, with its verbal fencing between Benedick (Matt Edwards, who's done Broadway shows, and off-Broadway work) and Beatrice (Susanna Risser, a savvy actress with a master's degree in fine arts who more than holds her own). Director Rob Salas (who's been an assistant director at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland) places the story in the Napa Valley in the late 1940s. Costumer Roxanne Femling provides crisp military uniforms and Doris Day-style dresses. Sacramento pro Matt K. Miller brightens several scenes as the clueless constable Dogberry. Composer Richard Chowenhill contributes clever incidental music.

But we already knew this group could handle Shakespeare. The unanticipated bonus is the other show—a delightful chamber musical called She Loves Me (by the team that later penned Fiddler on the Roof). Like Much Ado, it's a charming love story about verbal antagonists who fall in love, played by Laura Baronet (a recent B Street Theatre intern who is moving to London this fall to pursue a master's degree) and Ian Hopps (a San Francisco State University grad who's done independent films). It's very nicely directed by Gia Battista (who did an original show last year that workshopped in Ashland and won honors at the San Francisco Fringe Festival).

Together, these two shows make an auspicious debut for the fledgling fest. The quality is already present onstage. With the right marketing and a bit of luck, this new venture will hopefully take root and become a summer tradition.