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Measure for Measure

Theatre Reviews by Lindsey Wilson

Shakespeare was leading us on when he titled Measure for Measure, implying that every character's action will enjoy its proper consequence by the final curtain. This promised symmetry is, in fact, rarely found within the pages of the script, and even less so on the stage at The Woman's Interart Theatre, where blessed unrest is currently presenting The Bard's tangled morality play.

However pure their intentions, blessed unrest is guilty of a little deception of their own. Described as a "focused adaptation" by director Jessica Burr, the uneven acting, unexplained dance numbers, and off-kilter ending of this Measure for Measure paint a rather blurry picture over the course of two hours.

It begins promisingly enough, with lovers Claudio (Paul L. Coffey, who frankly does his best work as the foolish Froth later on) and Julietta (the barefoot beauty Eunjee Lee) lounging in a bathtub and strumming guitar love songs to one another. The lighting (by Benjamin C. Tevelow) is tender, and the scarlet cloth encasing Julietta's midsection is an ominous clue that the otherwise pale-clothed couple's pregnancy will not be joyous news to everyone.

Least of all Angelo, the man newly left in charge of Vienna by the "absent" Duke Vincentio and eager to rid the city of all criminals by whatever definition he sees fit. As Angelo, Craig Bridger is stiff and empty, and never appears much of a threat. He is neither the inherently evil man some scholars proclaim Angelo to be, nor the intrinsically human man who succumbs to temptation in the form of Claudio's saintly sister, Isabella (Laura Wickens).

The real person in charge seems to be Escalus; typically an elderly male advisor, but here played with splash by the afro-mohawked Zenzele Cooper, a woman whose bright red heels show she means business.

The use of modern costumes (by Lillian Rhiger) and cross-gender casting (the Duke is also played by a woman, Anna Kepe) might imply that the concept of this production is modern itself, but alas, what might have been conceived as modern instead gets lost in the fog of too many directions.

Is this a physically driven production? It would seem so, since the stage is populated by actors who are always active. But this constant movement detracts from the emotions and desires of the characters, turning into nothing more than restless business.

Is this a formal production? Or a musical one? Stretches of dialogue drag, only to be interrupted by blaring dance music over which numerous fight scenes (choreographed by Matt Opatrny) play out. Intermission comes after a group dance number in which each character boogies down and Lucio (Dave Edson, amusing but often confused) conducts an impromptu rock concert.

These spontaneous outbursts don't mesh with the seriousness of the rest of the production. The dancing seems jolting and out of place, and the leads appear to be on a different plane entirely from the secondary characters. With all its tragic elements, Measure for Measure relies on its secondary characters to infuse humor into the story. Here their jokes fall flat and the physical humor feels contrived.

The happy, multi-marriage ending, Shakespeare's way to slap a comedy tag on the show, is discarded. There is no joy here, as Angelo and his new wife Mariana stare disdainfully at each other, Lucio seems indifferent to his prostitute bride, and the Duke, rather than coaxing Isabella into accepting his marriage proposal, rapes her. The half-hearted attempts at jest earlier belie the true intention of this production; for all its dancing and singing, this Measure for Measure is truly a hardship.


Measure for Measure
Through March 5
Woman's Interart Theatre, 500 West 52nd Street, just west of 10th Avenue
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: www.blessedunrest.org