Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Measure for Measure
The story is set in Vienna as the city's Duke (Andy Grotelueschen) is about to leave the area. Those residing here have been given much freedom. The Duke actually feigns his departure and instead stays around disguised as a friar. Taking the reigns is Angelo (Paul L. Coffey) who is strict and punitive. Angelo will limit sexual promiscuity. He puts Claudio (Brody) in jail since Claudio is responsible for Juliet's pregnancy; she is not seen.
Isabella (Emily Young) intends to become a nun, but her brother Claudio is arrested and she tries to convince Angelo not to put Claudio to death. Angelo informs Isabella that he will relinquish the decree if Isabella will have sex with himmeaning Angelo. She is stunned and initially declines that offer.
Remember that the supposedly unrecognizable Duke, who wears a distinctive hood (courtesy costumer Whitney Locher), is on the scene and able to make an intervention. Duke sees to it that Mariana (Jessie Austrian), formerly engaged to Angelo, sleeps with Angelo. Angelo is now revealed and the Duke/friar makes it obvious that he is back at the controls. In the end, couples are united and marry. Ultimately, true justice is achieved through mercy and based upon a measure for measure formula.
The city has its share of brothels and various sketchy types of characters such as Pompey (Brody) and Mistress Overdone (Young). Ben Seinfeld plays a pliable, witty, flip, narrator-like Lucio. A bit rebellious, he is also fun; he leaves you laughing. In all, Measure for Measure is a dark comedy, which is also problematic. The "society" is comprised, yes, of pimps and whoresand also people who are politically powerful. The not-so-subtle yet cogent and contemporary message asks whether the types are all so different.
Set designer Derek McLane supplies six free-standing doors which are wheeled here and there for specific moments. At the beginning of each scene some of the actors sing mellifluously and a capella. The openings are sweet and calming. From time to time, an actor plays the cello which is stationed at the rear theater wall, and a beating drum lends percussive emphasis. The detailed touches are all special and each augments an already impressive evening.
The presentation is exemplary on all levels. Of great importance, too, is Fiasco's concept and actualization. The company comprises those who graduated from the Brown University/Trinity Rep M.F.A. acting program. During the past several years, driven by performance, this group has produced a number of showsin New York City, at universities ... Their collective dynamism, joie de vivre, and investment in the product is wonderfully evident. They are making a strong go of it, and this deserves a round of applause.
All of that said, this is difficult Shakespeare and not all that familiar to someone wandering into the theater without forewarning. It is likely that one will catch the gist and enjoy the highly skilled performance, complete with zest and enthusiasm, without prior understanding of the play.
Still, if one has a fair "measure" of plot realization beforehand, that will fuel an even deeper appreciation. Thus, it would not jeopardize integrity for Fiasco to include a long paragraph of story explanation suitable for program inclusion. In that way, the Shakespeare would be so much more enduring for those new to the Bard.
Measure for Measure continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut through December 20th, 2015. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.