BWW Reviews: MEASURE FOR MEASURE at Shakespeare Theatre Company
I must admit I have never seen Shakespeare's MEASURE FOR MEASURE. So I was not at all familiar with the story.
But after viewing Director Jonathan Munby's insightful take on this drama, I wonder why this play is not done more. It certainly is ripe for moving the action from the early 1600's to the period just before World War II in Vienna, the only Shakespeare play that takes place there.
Be prepared to arrive thirty minutes early, take your seat, try to familiarize yourself with the brilliant publication ASIDES chock full of information about the play, the director, the theme, post war life in Vienna and Berlin, and an informative piece by famed Attorney Abbe D. Lowell about justice. Kudos to Drew Lichenberg, Literary Associate at STC and production dramaturg for MEASURE FOR MEASURE for a superb publication.
Then, sit back and relax and be transported back in time to Vienna and a cabaret performance to get you in the mood which is full of sex, booze, debauchery, hints of homosexuality, drunkiness, etc. all to set the mood. It lasts twenty minutes and is set to French and German music by Adam Wernick with clever choreography by Daniel Pelzig. Can you picture two nuns in a strip tease? Basically, it's like going to a movie and seeing previews of coming attractions. The ensemble does an exceptional job here.
Then, the house lights go down and one focuses on Vincentio, the Duke, (Kurt Rhoads in a great role). The Duke takes a leave of absence in order to view his kingdom in disguise and hands over his reighn to his deputy Angelo (the wonderful creepy Scott Parkinson) who wants to establish a kingdom that enforces the law about morality which prohibits sex before marriage. The "Law and Order" Angelo (interesting choice for a name of a character who is devilish) wants to purify Vienna. To set an example, he orders the beheading on one Claudio (Avery Clark) who has violated the law by impregnating Juliet (Katie deBuys),
Claudio has a sister, Isabella (the marvelous Miriam Silverman) who is planning to become a nun. Well, Angelo concocts a plan to save Claudio if his sister sucumbs to his wishes and sleeps with him, he will save Claudio's life.
The Duke, disguised as a friar, designs a plan for Isabella to save her viginity. He suggests she ask Angelo's former fiance Miriana (Natascia Diaz who thankfully you can hear sing a lovely ballad in the pre-show) to take her place in bed with Angelo, keep her virginity and save her brother's life.
Well, there you have it. Not the usual story for a Shakespeare play. Everything works according to the Duke's plan until at the end of the play, he desires Isabella for himself and she scorns him and takes herself back to the nunnery.
While Act I seems to last forever, Act II runs at a much quicker pace.
I would become more familiar with the play if you plan to see it. If you do, I believe you will thoroughly enjoy it.
There will be a free Post-Performance Cast Discussion on Wednesday, October 9 as wll as a Classics in Context discussion following the October 12 matinee from 5-6 p.m. For more information, visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org/Education.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE runs until October 27 at the Lansburgh Theatre, 450 Seventh St., NW. For tickets call 202-547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheare.org.
Next up will be Stephen Sondheim's A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM running November 21 to January 5 (and there is even a New Year's Eve performance at 7:30 p.m.).