Friday night, I joined my friend Blair Howell to see Pioneer Theater Company's out of time production of Much Ado About Nothing.
I was delighted with the universe--the design concepts helped to highlight the characters' journies, rather than fight against them. Often times, I find myself pulled in two creative directions--distracted by the world of the play. While the design was exciting--it contributed to the story and helped us to see Beatrice's independence, Hero's grace, and reminded us that Messina was a land on the edge of war, with all the pomp and rigor that comes when you live as soldiers, with soldiers.
This production chose to highlight this by reminding audiences that it was the very old and the very young who would have stayed out of the wars and participated in the night watch. And so the night watch made up of a grandfather (Max Robinson) and his fierce collection of grandguards.
The grid patterned set protected us from the warring outside world--while letting in the softly lit sky designed by Paul Miller. The whole world was a match of soft and harsh. Love and War. Honor and deception. Independence and vulnerability. Blues and yellows. (Thank you costume designer Elizabeth Caitlin Ward.)
It was refreshing to hear unmiced actors fill the space with their voices, rather than rely on microphones. At the top of the show, it seemed that the actors were more interested in simply cheating out with their speeches, rather than including the audience in the conversation. You know what I mean--dramatically looking out over the tops of the audience members without any acknowledgement of their existence. But finally, during Act 2--Claudio and Benedick are both alone and they turn and talk directly to the audience, rather than over our heads. I sighed. These soliliquies just make more sense when the audience is included, rather than ignored. From that point on, it seemed that conversations and speeches were more about communicating needs rather than just posturing.
Beatrice was played with feisty independence and gravity by Rebecca Watson. T. Ryder Smith's Benedick was singularly juvenile and aged at the same time. He enjoyed the world he lived in while he was single and embraced the new world of love as an eager new student. His poetry was bad, but his heart was as charged in this new challenge as it had been when he was fighting as a soldier. Then again, falling in love with Beatrice couldn't have been too different from fighting in a great battle.
As love and war meshed together, we saw glimmers of green in the costumes.
The grid iron set gave way to ripening vines as the play progressed. Colleen Baum gave a comical and magical performance. More comedic with a touch of magic in the first act--and more magical, but still with a smile of humor in the second act.
I appreciated Matt August's insistence on carrying the humor through the heartwrenching scenes as well. It allowed the audience to enjoy the gravity, rather than endure it. This was especially enjoyable when Leonato (John Ahlin) and his brother Antonio (Terence Goodman) threaten the offending Claudio (Terrell Donnell Sledge) and Don Pedro (David Manis).
Overall, it was a stunning production where the actors and the designers were able to complement their gifts and create a cohesive and merry storytelling.
If you want to see it, the show plays at the Pioneer Theater Company through March 8th. For more information, visit http://www.pioneertheatre.org/2013-2014-season/much-ado-about-nothing/