Sunday, October 08, 2006

M4M (Cleveland Public Theatre)

Marvelous ‘M4M’ AT CPT

A quick look at local entertainment listings might lead someone to believe that Cleveland has become the off-beat Shakespeare center of the theatre world. A female Hamlet, a production of a Bard-light script that many think shouldn’t even be part of the Shakespeare portfolio, and an all-male version of ‘MEASURE FOR MEASURE’ which has a spotty history, at best.

The Cleveland Public Theatre production of ‘MEASURE FOR MEASURE, ‘ dubbed by the theatre, ‘M4M’ is the best of the trio.

‘MEASURE FOR MEASURE’ had only one recorded production during Shakespeare’s life time. In addition, it was not staged after that initial display for over a century because it was said to have “offensive characters and dialogue.” In fact, one Bard critic called it “a hateful work.”

From my perspective, the evaluators of those days were all wrong. ‘MEASURE FOR MEASURE’ makes strong social points, is an excellent example of a tragic-drama (it was originally called as a tragic-comedy), and is a wonderful vehicle for a talented director and company.

Fortunately, CPT has both the talented director, in the person of Craig J. George and a very, very talented ensemble of actors.

George’s vision for the play is totally creative. He envisions scene after compelling scene using only a large white tarp, a desk, a table, a hanging platform, and some black curtains. He is aided by Jenniver Sparano’s costumes which flip on and off bodies as fast as rabbits can be pulled out of a magician’s hat. As an audience, you can’t see all the clothing changes but dressers Curt Arnold and Sparano must be the best quick change artists for dressing and undressing the 6 male members of the cast who play 16 different roles. Not once is there confusion over who is who.

The cast is universally excellent. Michael Mauldin, the only equity member, mesmerizes as the Duke and Friar. He controls the stage with his commanding presence.

Geoff Knox, portraying Angelo, the acting Duke while the real Duke takes a break from his reign, as well as a Friar, a prostitute and several other roles, makes the transitions with ease. This is a very talented young man.

John Paul Soto portrays many of the female roles with wonderful dexterity. He embodies each with a unique characterization.

Rob Mayes plays the condemned Claudio, a pregnant Juliet (who is carrying Claudio’s child), and numerous other roles with a high degree of acting and singing excellence.

Ashley Davenport is properly pompous as Escalus, a court aide, as well as an executioner. He transitions well between characterizations.

Andrew Marikis is not as adept as the other members in the cast in creating meaningful characters, but he does well in breathing life into the lying Lucio.

I think CPT did a disfavor to potential audience members by stressing the production’s use of men playing all the roles. The ads and public relations releases gave the idea that this might well be an S&M, gay take of Shakespeare, a transvestite show. It’s not. Yes, there are tight black pants and bare male chests and simulated sex but it is not the major theme. Men played all the roles in Shakespeare’s day, and there is no reason that they shouldn’t do the same today, especially if they do it as well as the “M4M’ cast.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: CPT’s ‘M4M’ is one of the better of this season’s theatrical productions, well outshining the other Shakespeare shows in the area, and deserves to be seen by anyone interested in seeing a creatively directed and expertly acted production.