Jimmy Smits Is Benedick in Central Park Much Ado

News   Jimmy Smits Is Benedick in Central Park Much Ado
Jimmy Smits will return to Central Park's Delacorte Theatre this summer as the cocky Benedick in David Esbjornson's production of Much Ado About Nothing.
Jimmy Smits
Jimmy Smits

Smits will fuss and fight with the Beatrice of Kristen Johnston, his castmate in 2002's park offering, Twelfth Night.

Earlier this year, Smits finished a shortish run in Broadway's Anna in the Tropics.

Joining Smits and Johnston at the Delacorte will be Brian Murray as doltish constable Dogberry, Sam Waterston as local lord Leonato, and Elizabeth Waterston (Sam's daughter) as his virginal daughter Hero.

Waterston's participation will lend a bit of nostalgia to the production. The actor was one of the Public's mainstays in the '70s, when he was regarded as one of the nation's best classical actors. He starred in the Public's 1975 Broadway staging of Hamlet and as Benedick in its 1972 Broadway mounting of Much Ado (later committed to television). His other Broadway credits include Abe Lincoln in Illinois, A Walk in the Woods, Benefactors, Lunch Hour, A Doll's House, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, Hay Fever, Indians, Halfway Up the Tree and Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad. His film credits include "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Hannah and Her Sisters," "The Great Gatsby" and "Serial Mom." He has been a star of television's "Law & Order" for many years.

Busy former "3rd Rock From the Sun" star Johnston has acted in Central Park in The Skin of Our Teeth and 2002's Twelfth Night. She starred in the Roundabout Theatre Company's 2001 hit production of The Women and recently played in the New Group's Off-Broadway revival of Wallace Shawn's Aunt Dan and Lemon. Murray's most recent roles include Beckett/Albee Off-Broadway, MCC Theatre's production of Anto Howard's Scattergood and the recent Broadway revival of The Crucible. He's currently in Miami in the American premiere of Halpern & Johnson with Hal Linden at Coconut Grove Playhouse.

The comedy, set in Messina, concerns a group of soldiers and the impact their arrival has on the town and its residents (particularly the women). While the youthful Hero and Claudio fall in love, eternal bachelor Benedick and headstrong maid Beatrice—who profess to despise one another—rail against the idiocy of romantic alliances between men and women. Meanwhile, the vengeful bastard Don John plots the undoing of Hero and Claudio's union.

Along with Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado About Nothing has historically proved one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies, both with audiences and actors hungry to play the sharp-tongued hero and heroine. It is also arguably one of the Bard's most timeless plays, as the battle of the sexes has never waned over the centuries.

New York has seen many a Benedick and Beatrice over the years. Much Ado was one of the offerings at the John Street Theatre, Manhattan's first playhouse of note. Legendary American Shakespearean actors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, E.H. Southern and Julia Marlowe, were known for their interpretations of the roles, playing them on Broadway several times.

John Gielgud and Margaret Leighton brought a production to Times Square in 1959, while Waterston and Kathleen Widdoes topped the bill in a 1972 effort. The most recent Broadway Ado was a Royal Shakespeare Company mounting in 1984 and starred Derek Jacobi and Sinead Cusack. Off-Broadway, the Aquila Theatre Company recently staged a successful version set in the swingin' England of the 1960s (with visual references to early James Bond films).

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