Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Measure for Pleasure
Also see Susan's review of The Visit
The Restoration comedy developed after Charles II returned to the English throne in 1660, following the defeat of the Puritan government. While the Puritans had ordered the closing of theaters as centers of sin and vice, the Restoration dramatists celebrated sexual license: wives are tired of their virtue, husbands worry about being cuckolded, and libertines seek whatever they can find. Grimm's 2006 play just takes the situation a step farther, adding same-sex encounters to the mix.
The characters in Measure for Pleasure have allegorical names, in keeping with the Restoration tradition. Sir Peter Lustforth (Doug Brown), an aging gallant, pursues virginal Hermione Goode (Kimberly Gilbert) in part because he is repelled by the fevered attentions of his wife, Lady Vanity (Jennifer Mendenhall). Unfortunately for Sir Peter, his friend Captain Dick Dashwood (Michael Gabriel Goodfriend) wants Hermione for himself, and both men have to prove their good intentions to the young woman's guardian, the prudish Dame Stickle (Kimberly Schraf). In a parallel plot, Sir Peter's valet, Will Blunt (Joel Reuben Ganz), is trying to come to terms with his feelings for the cross-dressing prostitute Molly Tawdry (Andrew Honeycutt).
The entire cast gets deeply into the spirit of the enterprise, from Brown's mixture of high-flown language with low-down action to Ganz's sweetness and generosity, Mendenhall's arch way with a line, and Gilbert's blend of surface innocence and surprising awareness.
Director Howard Shalwitz serves as a traffic cop, keeping the actors from tripping over each other as they declaim Grimm's epigrammatic lines. The playwright's intention is to blend time periods, so Blunt can ask Molly about the job satisfaction of a whore while Hermione makes veiled comments about Sir Peter's "snake." Other lines refer to popular songs and movies and, most obviously, to Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.
The designers have thrown themselves into the collision of eras, so Robin Stapley's set offers both classical pillars and metal scaffolding; Helen Q. Huang has created cotton-candy wigs and amusingly anachronistic costumes (Sir Peter's pinstriped britches; Hermione's spangled bustier, short ruffled skirt, and sky-high yellow heels); and sound designer/composer Ryan Rumery blends the Baroque with head-banging rock.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company