Measure for Measure is one of the darker of Shakespeare's
comedies, and while some of it is very funny, there's quite a
bit of nasty business going on. The Duke (Hal Smith-Reynolds)
leaves town, putting Angelo (Jason Kuschner) in charge.
Angelo has a dark streak a mile wide, and a past just waiting
to haunt him. He also considers himself to be an immovable object,
but he hasn't reckoned with Isabella (Maureen Hennigan),
an irresistible force in her own right. And the Duke hasn't really
left, he hangs around in disguise to see what develops. But there
are serious life issues raised here: fidelity, honor, passion,
authority, responsibility -- but they are leavened with a little
Director Ted Zurkowski found some interesting ways to present these conflicts, to varying degrees of success. There's been some tampering with the script (surely Shakespeare didn't write dialogue about dollars, or suburbs), and perhaps it overstates the obvious to have Kuschner also play a jailer/executioner to exemplify Angelo's dark nature. Kuschner plays Angelo quite dark enough to make the point on his own, but never to excess. It is his intensity that makes the major conflict of Measure for Measure as affecting as it is.
In a fit of "mine is bigger than yours," Angelo has condemned Claudio (Ron Micca) to death for committing the crime of fornication. (It seems this was an old, unenforced edict still on the books.) Claudio sends his sister Isabella, a novitiate, to plead his case. Angelo is not unmoved, but power (and his past) have gone to his head, and he offers to trade Claudio's life for Isabella's body. Isabella's quandary is the crux of the play -- it's a perfect set up, and practically unresolvable. And besides, Measure for Measure really is a comedy, so most of the other characters are played for their humor -- either overtly, like Lucio (Stephen Kaiser, dressed like a character out of Damon Runyan), the pimp Pompey (Doug Mancheski, who also gets to gets to play a Friar), and a madam, Mistress Overdone (Josephine Gallarello, who also gets to play a nun) -- or incidentally, like Escalus (Tom Fenaughty), and the Provost (Elliott George Robinson), who must try and make sense of what the Duke's absence hath wrought. Even the Duke himself gets caught in mistaken-identity traps of his own making.
It was in the acting where this production measured up. Although costumed for gothic melodrama, Kuschner's intensity and anger were compelling; Hennigan was a sturdy Isabella; Rachel Russell as Mariana was just right as both Angelo's partner in lust and his bête noir; the befuddled panic of Fenaughty's Escalus was, by the end, surprisingly moving. Especially outstanding were Kaiser's Lucio, consistently and surprisingly funny, and Smith-Reynolds as the Duke, played with the authority to be in charge, and the intelligence to clean up the mess of his own making. He and Isabella really did seem suited to each other, and their pairing was a satisfying conclusion.
The production was well-staged, using the bi-level playing area to maximum effect. In spite of the bright pink colors which dominated the set (by Eric Lemire) and the melange of costume styles (by Bengal), the flavor of this play was decidedly mixed, with both the bitter and the sweet on display.
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Copyright 1998 David Mackler