Twenty people rushed onto the state and flung dancing frenzy. Dressed in carnival gear, they cavorted time to a stacatto drum. With these debauched revels House Drama Society production of Measure to Measure off to an electric start. But before long, it lost its way acting and innovative direction, the production through the text, without any overriding logic.
The play depicts the turbulent and short-lived regency over the Duchy of Vienna. The Duke, poland assumes the disguise of mendicant friar to get a perspective on his city. As his deputy during his chooses Angelo on the basis of his reputation for unwavering morality. As expected, the upright Angelo upsets licentious Viennese by sentencing the randy Claudio to death for fornication. When his prim novitiate sister, Isabella, comes to sue for her brother's life. Angelo finds himself consumed by the very lust he condemns, and demands sexual favors for Claudio's release. Shakespeare constructs a detailed examination of judgement, hypocrisy, severity and mercy. In the best Shakespearean comic tradition, the play ends with reconciliation, merriment, and multiple marriages all round.
Director Kirk Williams sets the play in the South. Or does he? Steve Latham delivers a brilliant performance as the kindly old- guard judge, Escalus, gone Dixie. He presents an enchanting vision of a genteel southern drunkard, wracked by guilt. But apart from the bourbon shots that the authorities knock back in moments of stress, the Old South interpretation ends there.
The confusing direction, on the other hand, presses on with a vengeance. The audience cannot make sense of the of the bizarre melting pot of images Williams assembles. He indulges in several impressionics tableaux: the opening pageant, a procession of religios penitents, a neo- Nazi interrogation scene. Are we to take the different scenes as individual sketches, held together by a skeleton plot, or does some dramatic unity lurk in these disparte vignettes?
Not all of Williams' ideas breed such confusion. Jennifer Breheny, as Isabella, dons the judge's robe as she makes aa decision about Angelo's unwonted sexual advances, cleverly highlighting the paralel moments of judgement. Angelo himself first appears wearing a bowler hat and an anonymous coat like Magritte's schoolmaster, conjouring up an image of a man without character. And the Duke's self- indulgent megalomanic manipulation becomes evident when he chants his twisted schemes to the music of the band, as if officiating at an arcane religious rite.
Ye Blake Lawit, as the Duke, at times gets carried away with this eccentric portrayl. The Duke,, especially when disguised as the friar, appears several flights short of the attic, losing some of the sinister edge to his character. Sinister transformations abound in Alan Ackerman's portrait of Angelo. The upright moralist degenerates into nymphomaniac with an anguish that would evoke sympathy from the most severe judge. Breheny's wide eyed innocence at the start of the drama captures the virginal Isabella perfectly.. But her maiden- in- distress scenes later on lack the same dramatic conviction.
But Breheny is not the only one lacking conviction. The production never engages fully with the play. In the comic scens, instead of cracking Shakespeare,s jokes, the actors parody themselves by sending up the obscure language of the humor. Alfred Divenuti, as the pimp Lucio, gradually surrenders his creative characterization in favor of slapstick hamming. The prostitute Pmopey (Jessica Viertel) decides to make a joke out of her delivery, apparently because she doesn't know how to make the jokes themselves.
The entire production is guilty of hiding from the text in this way. By the final scene, the cast appears to be mocking the play rather than actin git. For all its strengths, going to see Measure for Measure is less than a fulfilling experience.
A detailed examination of judgement, hypocrisy, severity and mercy.
By the final scene, the cast appears to be mocking the play rather than acting it.