Measure for Measure
Also see Caleb's review of Lost in Yonkers
"They say the best men are molded out of faults. And for the most, become much more the better, for being a little bad."
Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, continuing at the Vortex Theatre through July 14th, examines our sexual desires, in particular those that are wrongful and misplaced, the moral predicaments that ensue, and in the end the redemption that is possible upon repentance. First, there's the inciting action of Claudio and Juliet's too-fast too-soon desire for each otheras evidenced by her ever-present ever-silent pregnant belly. Then there's Angelo's desire for the nun Isabella, spurred all the more because of her vow of chastity. "Dost thou desire her foully for those things that make her good?" he asks of his own perversion. Then there's Mariana's undying obsessive desire for Angelo, a man who left her completely abandoned and slighted five years prior. And as a background to it all, there's the unquenchable desire of the constant stream of male clients into the town brothel, including Lucio, who apparently has knocked up every female in town at some point or another.
Director Denise Schulz sets the play in a contemporary red light district Vienna. This is hit and miss. The sex-charged subject matter certainly fits this. And the costume designs by Lila Martinez are excellent in this setting, with an obvious attention to detail. But the concept isn't as well executed as it could be. It starts out intriguing. The pre-show prostitute round-up (be advised, parents: PG-13 on this show) sets the mood as fast-paced, bold, and unapologetically seedy. When the first scene of Shakespeare's actual language begins, however, the momentum (and the contemporary feel) slows significantly. If utilized much more often, overlapping dialogue and overlapping physical transitions would help tighten, intensify, and naturalizemaintaining the energy. But then there's the problem of the ambient club music coming in and out at strange times; it seems that no one's really sure whether it helps or hinders. By the time intermission rolls around, the music seems to have been phased out and the focus tends to shift to more intimate dramatic acting scenes. This is a welcome turn of events for the principal actors, who are then able to bring the momentum of the show back to where it should be.
Rhiannon Frazier (Isabella) offers an intelligent and vulnerable performance as our heroine and beacon of chastity, and makes the language truly accessible. Justino Brokaw likewise tackles the language with finesse, and gives us a villain we can cheer for in Lucio. David James (Duke, and then later the Undercover Duke aka Friar Lodowick) has excellent instincts as an actor and, although off to a timid start, his performance improves as the plot unfolds. Vincent Marcus displays comedic ability in his scudzy portrayal of Pompey the pimp.
Some of the other characters could be improved. Christina Squire as Mistress Overdone looks the part (kudos to costumes), but would benefit from more groundedness and higher stakes in her scenes. Rafael Gallegos as Angelo has many good moments, but his physicality needs to be relaxed. Grey Blanco provides a heart-felt and dashing Claudio, and Carly Moses is a sympathetic and honest Mariana, but the vocal volume of both actors is sometimes swallowed up.
This show's a little messy, a little spotty, which makes it feel amateur at timesbut it's still well worth a watch, simply because it's not too often that Measure for Measure is performed and the morality-centered story is an intriguing step away from Shakespeare's tried-and-true comedies and tragedies. It's a great chance to see Shakespeare show his stuff as a Christian moralist as he untangles the web of a plot he has spun in the end.
Measure for Measure continues at the Vortex through July 14th. Show times are Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 pm (excluding July 4th) and Sundays at 2:00 pm. Tickets are $12-$18. To order tickets and for more information on Will Power 4 Festival and the final show in the line-up this summer, Macbeth, visit www.vortexabq.org.