BWW Review: Fiasco's MEASURE FOR MEASURE Successfully Simplifies Tale of Corruption
Corruption and power click together like a key in a lock. Political scandal is tragically and comically normalized in William Shakespeare's relevant dark comedy Measure for Measure, presented with thematic simplicity and ingenuity by Fiasco Theater at the New Victory Theater playing now through March 16.
After the actors warm up onstage, the highly physical staging by actor/directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld begins when an everyman Duke (Andy Grotelueschen) goes in disguise as an Italian monk to survey his city, putting Deputy Angelo (Paul L. Coffey) in charge. With this new power, Angelo literally interprets the laws of indecency shutting down all brothels and sentencing the good Claudio (Brody) to death for impregnating his fiancé before marriage. His newly habited sister Isabella (Emily Young) is blackmailed by the temporary ruler into giving up her chastity in exchange for her brother's life. The compromised siblings' hope lies in Angelo's ex fiancé Mariana (Jessie Austian) tag teaming Isabella right before the dirty deed.
The play has been appropriately trimmed to 13 roles shared among the talented ensemble of 6.
Coffey's Angelo is a wormy dweeb who has an initial reluctance to the hypocritical and skeezy bribe but is noticeably shielded by power after speaking the desire. As the honor driven-Isabella, whose purity brings all the dukes to their knees, Young is passionate and has a climactic response to the famously unanswered proposal that suggests a woman who has high ambitions herself.
One of the most fascinating turns of the evening is that of the fearsome Barnardine brought to life, though never seen, by Grotelueschen and Brody in an inventive sequence of pratfalls and self inflicted stage combat.
Resourcefulness like this runs deep in all aspects including the design.
Steinfeld uses music by renaissance composer William Byrd, an appropriate choice thematically, and is gorgeously executed by the multitalented ensemble.
The imaginative costumes by Whitney Locher suggest a time between the original period and the present with a storybook sensibility and flourishes to differentiate each actor's different characters.
Set designer Derek McLane's vision of Vienna employs six different doors that alternate between opening/closing and flipping to reveal the many locations. The only time all doors are open is the public shaming of Claudio showing a city united by love of public scandal.
Through suggestion and simplicity in all aspects, the Bard's often overcomplicated tale of sex and hypocrisy in a big city is rendered perfectly clear and continuously engaging by Fiasco.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus