Student director puts modern spin on Shakespeare comedy

VegSOUP and Cothurnus presented William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” on Thursday Oct. 15 in Sturges Auditorium. Senior Isabella Dixon—a previous student director for the staged reading “Death and the Maiden”—skillfully directed another excellent play. Sturges Auditorium was beautifully lit with tea and fairy lights as well as paper lanterns. The simple yet elegant set design added to the romantic aura of the play. Dixon designed the set along with juniors William Gfeller and Brodie McPherson.

The play starred senior Lea Pandoliano as Beatrice and senior Noah Pfeiffer as Benedick. Pandoliano was a familiar face, as she was the lead of Dixon’s staged reading “Death and the Maiden.”

The plot of “Much Ado About Nothing” centers around two couples dealing with opposite situations of deception. First, there are Beatrice and Benedick, who are tricked into confessing their love for each other. Then, Claudio—played by junior Adam Brown—is misled into thinking his fiancée Hero—played by junior Olivia Knowlden—is being unfaithful to him.

The musicality used in this version of the play was very intriguing. Rather than having music you would expect to hear in a Shakespeare play, Dixon decided to incorporate more modern tracks. For instance, senior Phoebe Phelps sang a modern rendition of The Ink Spot’s “If I Didn’t Care,” with the background track arranged by senior Lauren Zehner. There was also a cover of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” played in the background, sung by former American Idol contestant Haley Reinhart.

Another contemporary feature in this interpretation of Shakespeare’s play was the costume choice. As opposed to normal 16th-century attire, costume designer sophomore Claire Johanson chose modern suits, dresses and leather jackets for the characters to wear alongside their less modern masquerade masks.

Shakespeare originally wrote the characters of Dogberry—played by junior Chase Watkins—and Verges—played by freshman Leeann Bruetsch—as a constable and deputy of the castle. In Dixon’s version, however, she chose to make the characters more relatable and comedic by labeling them as “Neighborhood Watchmen” with whistles and T-shirts to fit the part.

Dixon’s integration of modern music, clothes and the “Neighborhood Watchmen” assisted in making the play written in Elizabethan English more understandable and relevant to her audience.

In Dixon’s director’s note in the program, she acknowledged the fact that the intricate language in Shakespeare plays could sometimes hinder people from understanding the whole play. She hoped that the actor’s pronunciation and dialect of words—as well as the physical action of their acting—would help the audience follow the performance.

The actors superbly portrayed the meaning of the dialogue, speaking slowly and with appropriate emotion to make themselves comprehendible.

“Much Ado About Nothing” is one of Shakespeare’s comedies, so it was much more light-hearted than his famous tragedies like “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet.” The actors—specifically Pfeiffer, Watkins and Bruetsch—evoked laughs with the execution of their lines, interaction and eye contact with the audience.

The chemistry between the characters—especially the couples—was believable, which is an absolutely vital component of theater. The casting choices seemed well thought-out, which made the production even more enjoyable to watch.

Dixon’s decision to incorporate modernity into the centuries-old Shakespeare play “Much Ado About Nothing” was perfect for an audience full of college students trying to follow and relate to the Elizabethan era work. The play was a success and a confident student director led the superb cast.