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An Even Measure of Comedy and Drama

Saturday 19 February 2011

Measure for Measure

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 18 February – 6 November, 2011

I’ve always thought of Measure for Measure as a tragedy–there’s (almost) sexual scandal between a justice and a young girl, there is scandal between her brother and cousin, and more to go around. This gives it a dramatic edge.

But there’s a ton of comedy, so much so that it feels like the ol’Bard must have been thinking about Much Ado, especially the conclusion full of enforced marriages.

I’ll say this right up front–if you didn’t like American Night or Hamlet last year, or are generally opposed to modern stagings, don’t go to this. Anything Latin has been changed to Spanish, or sometimes Spanglish; the setting is early 1970’s, but with the (more-or-less) original dialogue. It’s the usual thing of Shakespearean text surviving somehow into a modern setting, as has been done many times on stage and in film, but I know some folks want “classical” costuming and sets. This isn’t that.

What works really, really well:

  • Anthony Heald as the Duke and Friar. I’ve never understood how the characters could really be expected not to see through the flimsy disguises whenever Shakespeare needs to hide a character in another role, but here it is, and Mr. Heald does it great. Oh, and watch for his interactions with Lucio, which have him running hot and cold in temper.
  • Stephanie Beatriz and René Millán as Isabella and Angelo. I will not be surprised if some people ding Ms. Beatriz for being squeaky, but they will be wrong–a novitiate could have been 14 (or younger); she hits the voicing and initial awkwardness just right. Mr. Millán does the transition from merely icy to downright villainous to forcibly repentant with full believability.
  • Kenajuan Bentley and Ramiz Monsef do the comic duo of Lucio and Pompey as a mix of Blaxploitation and slick Jersey boy. It’s good to see Mr. Bentley hit all the marks in a comic role after his work last year in Ruined. When we first saw Mr. Monsef in last night’s performance, his voice sounded a lot like Dan Donohue’s; his acting has taken on many of Mr. Donohue’s aspects, and, in the absence of Mr. Donohue this season, this is A Good Thing.
  • Tyrone Wilson as Elbow and Tony DeBruno as Provost, the two main constables, do a great job as the on-stage Thalia and Melpomene, muses of comedy and tragedy.

You don’t come out laughing out loud, but there are some gut-busters during the show, and, in the end, everyone is happy (assuming Isabella really does marry the Duke). This show is probably not planned as the crowd-pleaser Shakespearean this season–Love’s Labor’s Lost will likely take that role–but with the modern staging and comic repartee, this will come close.

2h55m with one intermission; allow a bit more, as the audience will tend to applaud after the several musical interludes. Highly recommended.

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