To end the Ithaca College theater season with a show about nothing may seem like a random choice. But Shakespeare’s comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” is a fitting note to end the year on after the department’s array of edgy, contemporary pieces.
This season has been full of heavy themes. God laid his wrath on Adam and Eve in “Children of Eden,” and a sweet girl was trapped in the endless pain of the underworld in “Eurydice.” So after all these serious plays, it’s as if the members of the cast of “Much Ado About Nothing” are extending their arms to the audience, curving their lips into a grin and inviting everyone to laugh a little before finals. The deviation works.
Director Greg Bostwick’s adaptation of “Much Ado,” one of the better-known Shakespearian comedies, takes place in its traditional setting of Messina, Italy, in 1650. The story revolves around two romances: young lovers Hero (senior Elysia Jordan) and Claudio (sophomore Luke Wise), and Benedick (senior Michael Haller) and Beatrice (senior Dani Stoller) — two sparring individuals who fight to repress their love for each other by putting up a seemingly impenetrable wall of wit.
Shining performances from both leading actors Stoller and Haller incite most of the comedy and forward action in the play, and their fierce dueling words are aptly accompanied by even stronger physical comedy. Their shared outward vibrancy during arguments and quarrels serve as a good translation of Shakespeare’s timeless but sophisticated text. Their performance proves true comedy is part verbal acting and a whole lot of physical blocking.
Bostwick and choreographer Lindsay Gilmour, assistant professor of theater arts, make the action onstage as sharp as the iambic pentameter that decorates the Bard’s language. Senior set designer Katie Woodward and junior lighting designer Drew Winston further garnish the play with a rich set inspired by Italian architecture and warm lighting.
Stoller plays a tightly wound Beatrice, and her character is well-reflected in her rigid, royal purple costume designed beautifully by senior Ainsley Anderson. As Beatrice spews joke after rambunctious joke at her counterpart Benedick, more of the insecurities of her character push their way to the foreground, and Stoller handles that realization wonderfully.
The same can be said for Haller, who mirrors Stoller’s descent into love, though he grapples with the little piece of youth in him. He parades across the stage like a venerable, cunning bachelor. His booming voice — perfect for a charismatic lead in a comedy — carries throughout the Hoerner. Watching the evolution of his turbulent tête-à-tête with Stoller is entertaining and riotous.
Though Stoller and Haller have spot-on chemistry and a respectable grasp on Elizabethan language and diction, slow pacing still drags some parts of the play down and weakens its almost farcical nature.
Shakespeare could have done away with some drawn-out scenes like when Hero’s father, Leonato (senior Tyler Gardella), condemns her when suspicion arises that she is attempting to marry Claudio after losing her virginity to another man. Though Gardella acts with intense and feverish temperament, the scene is one of several flaws in the play itself. The actors work around these problems, though, by fully committing to the emotions written into the text.
The play is sprinkled with other stellar performances like senior Thaddeus McCants’ malapropism-ridden captain of the guard Dogberry. With a flowing red wig, McCants traipses onstage and has a blast with his entertaining role.
Performed countless times in many capacities, “Much Ado” is still able to keep its relevance even in 2010, more than 400 years after its debut. Secretly requited love, infidelity, mistaken identity and melodramatics never get old. Never.