This past weekend marked the opening of the IU Theatre and Drama Center’s Wells-Metz Theatre with a witty and graceful production of Shakespeare’s "Much Ado About Nothing." Wes Peter’s scenic design suggested an Elizabethan theatre work but allowed for even more flexibility in Bruce Burgun’s staging.
Although the Wells-Metz Theatre is the smaller of the two theatres in the new center, it is a big space for an actor’s voice to fill and presents some real challenges both for acting and blocking. The acting space is at one end of a horse shoe of ground floor seats. The ceiling is very high and there are second and third floor, U-shaped shallow balconies. Director Burgun and the actors did a very fine job as they played to nearly all points of the compass. They even they made nice use of the high ceiling with a delightful game of badminton that fitted neatly to the repartee of Shakespeares’ dialog. Just one quibble, from the floor the continual movement of four little tables on a sort of central gazebo seemed tiresome distractions, but the theatre does provide a variety of vantages and an upstairs viewer told me that the changes actually made scenic sense.
"Much Ado About Nothing" is a story of wooers and wooing. The straight development, the comedy and the near tragedy all come from romance at a remove. Don Pedro, played with real gravity by A. K. Murtadha, woos the lovely but dim Hero, played by Jessica Cannon. However, the wooing is for his Lietenant Claudio, Nicholas Cacciola. Then our main characters, the fiery and witty Beatrice, Melissa Joy Nedell, and the swash buckling, but amusing, Benedick, Geoff Wilson, have their wooing done for them. They are fooled by friends who set each to overhear conversations about the other’s wild love for them. This wooing at a distance business takes a nasty turn when Don Pedro and Lieutenant Claudio are fooled by the evil Don John, Jose Antonio Garcia, with his setting of a scene in which it appears that Hero is unfaithful. The happy finale is again a set scene of wooing at a remove in which Claudio believes he is marrying Hero’s sister. If we demand a moral or at least a caution from "Much Ado…", it’s probably that wooing should be a bit more direct, but that would also make it a lot less of an adventure.
I’ve mentioned the main characters, but must single out Chris Nelson as the solid Governor of Messina, Carly Ann Roetter as a villainess, Kate Nawrock as the secretary to the town watch and of course Mark Verne as the Chief of Police, Dogberry. Dogberry is a master of malaprops, a man "too cunning to be understood," and all along Verne played the part with a delightfully bemused and thoroughly misplace confidence.
The IU production of "Much Ado About Nothing" in the new Wells-Metz Theatre makes for a delightful evening of Shakespeare. There’s much more than nothing to make ado about. It plays each evening this week. There is an additional two o’clock matinee performance on Saturday.