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Commendable Staging of a Less Than Perfect Play
MEASURE FOR MEASURE - Thomas Jay Ryan and Cara Ricketts in Theatre for a New Audience's production of "Measure for Measure" by William Shakespeare. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
Measure for Measure
Directed by Simon Godwin
Theatre for a New Audience
Polonsky Shakespeare Center
262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn
From June 17, 2017
Closes July 17, 2017 (866) 811 – 4111or firstname.lastname@example.org
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons July 1, 2017
When a playwright has the stature of Shakespeare there’s no such thing as a flop. There are only “problem plays.” And so we have “Measure for Measure,” a comedy that has inspired various adaptions, and characters and plots in other works, but is not among the Bard’s most frequently performed works.
For this reason, Theatre for a New Audience should be given extra credit for mounting the show at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center this season. And the fact is, director Simon Godwin has given the work an excellent staging, from the flexible and minimalist set by Paul Wills to the songs, with lyrics taken from Shakespeare’s sonnets and music by Jane Shaw and The Lusty Puddings. To say nothing of the excellent casting.
Nevertheless, the absurdity of the plot and the achingly long denouement works like a rock tied to a competitive swimmer’s leg. But let’s review the hight points.
The plot of “Measure for Measure” is set in motion when Vincentio, The Duke of Vienna (Jonathan Cake), leaves the city and entrusts its government to the puritanical judge, Angelo (Thomas Jay Ryan). He does this because he believes the morals of his subjects have become hopelessly corrupted, partly due to his own complicity.
This decision has unexpected results.Eventually, Vincentio, disguised as Friar Lodowick, discovers that not only have the brothels been closed, but Claudio (Leland Fowler), who has gotten his intended bride, Juliet (Sam Morales), pregnant, has been arrested for lechery and is about to be put to death.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE - Jonathan Cake and Leland Fowler in Theatre for a New Audience's production of "Measure for Measure" by William Shakespeare. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
Claudio’s sister, Isabella (Cara Ricketts), who has just entered a convent, pleads with Angelo on her brother’s behalf. But Angelo is more interested in Isabella. He promises to release Claudio only in return for sex, a deal Isabella finds abhorrent. Vincentio concocts an elaborate plot to save Claudio, which to any reasonable person is pretty ridiculous, considering that all he has to do is remove Angelo and take back the reigns of power.
Despite this disorderly plot, “Measure for Measure” elucidates many of Shakespeare’s favorite themes: justice, mercy, hypocrisy, love. The scene is which Claudio tries to convince his sister that having sex with Angelo might not be such a bad thing after all is riveting. Also effective is the scene in which Mariana (Merritt Janson) pleads with Isabella to spare Angelo, a man she still loves, although he once jilted her.
The play’s title comes from the Book of Matthew: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with that judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure you meet, it shall be measured unto you again.” In other words, no one’s perfect. Perhaps, in retrospect, we can see that Shakespeare was also speaking about himself.
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