Sunday, October 07, 2007

Measure for Measure

‘MEASURE FOR MEASURE’ adds up to thoughtful fun at GLTF

‘MEASURE FOR MEASURE,’ Shakespeare’s dark comedy/problem play, is in production at Great Lakes Theatre Festival . Though written more than 400 years ago, it is impossible to view the actions and not be aware how it resonates in the present day world.

The play centers on secret identities, manipulation, and the search for truth. The plot is complexly woven, and the resolution comes with the unraveling of the layers of intrigue. The Bard alludes to such questions as: Should an individual commit a sin in order to save another person? And, Is it moral for one person or group to condemn or vilify another because of his/her beliefs?

The story centers on the fate of Claudio, who has been arrested by Lord Angelo, the temporary leader of Vienna. Angelo was left in charge by the Duke, who pretends to leave town but instead dresses as a friar to observe the goings-on in his absence. Angelo is strict, moralistic, and unwavering in his decision-making. He decides that there is too much freedom in Vienna and takes it upon himself to rid the city of brothels and unlawful sexual activity. Laws against these behaviors and institutions already exist, and Angelo decides to strictly enforce them. Claudio is arrested for impregnating Juliet. Although they were engaged and their sex was consensual, Claudio is sentenced to death in order to serve as an example to others. We follow as the tale of intrigue unfolds to a satisfying and expected ending.

In a philosophical sense, the play is about a society desperately in need of finding a sound balance between repression and acceptance of human nature. One group preaches rejection and making outcasts of those who don’t follow their definition of morality—think the religious right. On the other hand, there are those who accept that humans are flawed, and be accepted for who they are—think social moderates.

Shakespeare appears to come down on the side of social moderates who, as represented by the Duke, apply laws and interpret dictates in a humane way. He also showcases the underhanded operations of people who act “holier than thou” but are, in reality, not living up to their preaching—again think of the number of recent politicians and religious leaders who have been exposed for leading double lives…one they preach and legislate, the other they live.

GLTF’s production, under the light-hearted hand of Risa Brainin, wraps the story in modern dress, contemporary settings, softened traditional speech patterns, while adding contemporary slang and a farcical twist to the proceedings. Though Shakespeare traditionalists might cringe, the over-all effect is an audience pleasing evening of theatre.

Richard Klautsch is excellent as the Duke of Vienna. He develops a clear, consistent and believable character. Kathryn Cherasaro makes Isabella, Claudio’s sister, a sensitive and convincing person whose beliefs are severely tested as she fights for the life of her brother who has committed an act of which she does not approve, but must show loyalty and sisterly devotion.

If you know Andrew May as portraying over-the-top lovable buffoons, you’ll have to switch mental gears to truly appreciate his portrayal of Angelo. May fine tunes the character of the hypocritical moralist. It’s nice to see May being given the opportunity to display the depth of his acting abilities.

Though a little over the top, David Anthony Smith (Lucio), complete with hippie hair and clothing, gives a sucker-sucking, farcical , audience pleasing interpretation to the role.

Russell Metheny’s scenic design is a practical work of sculpture. The linear, contemporary metal and plastic panels, much in the style of Yacov Agam’s optical and kinetic art, was used well to create a series of locales. Branin choreographed the scene changes with military cadence and precision.

Michael Klaers’s light design added to the overall effect.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: GLTF’s ‘MEASURE FOR MEASURE’ will please audiences who want their Shakespeare on the light side. It is a perfect vehicle for exposing students to the Bard in an intriguing way. On the other hand, Shakespearean purists may go running down the aisles exiting the theatre, but they’d better be careful, as the cast is constantly charging up and down the walkways.