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'The Heiress:' director Dale McFadden's swan song


Catherine Sloper, left, and aunt Lavinia Penniman, right, portrayed by Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz and Ellise Chase, socialize before a party during a rehearsal of Ruth and Augustus Goetz “The Heiress” on Sept. 18 in Ruth N. Halls Theatre. The story focuses on Catherine Sloper, a wealthy, socially awkward woman who falls in love with a man that her father believes is only after their money. Andrew Williams Buy Photos

For five seconds during the invited dress rehearsal for “The Heiress,” the lights came on, but nobody came out on stage. The first five seconds where nothing happened is the first thing director Dale McFadden mentioned to his cast and crew.

It might not seem like a lot, but to McFadden, those five seconds mean everything. 

“Dale is wonderful,” Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz, McFadden's lead actress, said. “Very detailed, very meticulous, in the best way possible.”

After spending the past 33 years teaching and directing at IU, McFadden is planning to retire at the end of the school year. “The Heiress” will be the final play he directs at IU. Linda Pisano, the department chair, called it his “big swan song.” 

The play premieres at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21 in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre. There will be performances at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22 and Sept. 25 through 29 at the theatre as well.

“The Heiress,” is a famous play, adapted from the Henry James novel, “Washington Square.” While they have different names, both center on Catherine, the titular young woman with a considerable inheritance.

The elaborate costumes and stiff dialogue reflect the late nineteenth century “The Heiress” is set in. 

Catherine is like most women from that time. She is seen only as valuable as men see her. She is told many times that no man could love her without her money, to the point she almost begins to believe it. Toward the end, she begins to see the value in herself that no one else would give her. 

“I can do anything, my dearest,” Catherine says, defiantly.

Catherine is brought to life by Kunkel-Ruiz, a second year master of fine arts actor. Starring alongside her as the courting Morris is Felix Merback, a junior theater and drama major. He floats on-stage and is laced with a nuance and a depth. And just as almost all the cast members seemed to do, Merback attributed his performance to his director.

“He has such a vast understanding of the play, and he really helped us get into that world,” Merback said. “I am intensely, intensely sad he’s leaving. He is one of the great directors this school has ever seen.”

McFadden recalls when he first came to IU in 1985, what he calls “his young and skinny days.” During the past 30 years, he’s been a part of a countless plays, from Shakespeare, to Sheridan, to “The Heiress” once before. Compared to students thirty years ago, McFadden said somethings have changed, but others haven't. 

“So many of them are eager and willing to be as good as they can be," McFadden said. "Lots has changed, but that hasn’t."

While his students seem to be upset about his retirement, McFadden seems at peace with it. He said he’s lucky because he’s never walked into work and didn’t want to be there.

McFadden said he's had a fulfilling time at IU, and he feels now is the right time to move on.

“Well, my joke is that they say in retirement you’re supposed to do everything you wanted to do, but couldn’t,” McFadden said. “Well, I’ve already done everything.”

During one of his final IU dress rehearsals, McFadden sat in the crowd taking notes with a pen and a flashlight. By the end of the play, he was sitting on the edge of his seat, looking up at his students. 

Right now, he enjoys the five seconds of being an IU director while he still can. 

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