Guthrie Theatre, Measure for Measure
There seem to be as many different interpretations of Shakespeare’s work as there are grains of sand in the Sahara Desert. Everyone has a theory on how to present the Bard. London’s Globe Theatre has an interesting twist - one precipitated by its unique setting. The Globe is a recreation of the original home of many of Shakespeare’s work. The theater (near the location of the original Globe) is open aired, uses natural light and an “original practices” approach.
I can’t vouch on how this works in London, but on the venerable Guthrie thrust stage, the all-male company (part of the original practices) brought the troubled Measure for Measure to life. The limited set and lights (the house lights remain up throughout the performance) focus all of the attention on the actions on the stage and the performances. They, thankfully, are up to the intense gaze.
Vincentio, the Duke of Vienna, leaves the land in the hands of Angelo. Angelo sets out to “clean up” the town, arresting all lawbreakers. This includes Claudio, a young man who has gotten his wife-to-be pregnant. Since sex outside of marriage is illegal, Claudio is sentenced to die.
His only hope is his sister Isabella, who discovers that the only way to save her beloved brother is to bed the substitute Duke. She is horrified by the prospect and will not submit to the man’s advances, even if it means her brother’s death. The Duke, however, is near at hand, disguised as a monk, and ready to set machinations into motion that will make everything right by night’s end.
Measure for Measure is a bawdy play, and the performers don’t shy away from it. It’s also pretty cynical, which director John Dove also keeps in the forefront. Even the “happy” ending is tinged with darkness, as you wonder if these characters will actually live their lives in harmony, or just continue to plot behind the scenes.
At the center of it all is the Duke, masterfully played by outgoing Globe artist director Mark Rylance. Rylance gives the Duke a stuttering hesitancy that may point to why he leaves the city in the lurch: he doesn’t really like leading his people.
Other actors also impress, including John Dougall as the lecherous “bawd” Pompey and Edward Hogg, who makes a graceful (if rather tall) Isabella.
Sometimes I wished the company had tightened the action - there really isn’t enough plot or character here to warrant three hours on stage - but for the most part, Measure for Measure works to bring the Bard’s work, not just to the stage, but to life.
Measure for Measure runs through November 6. For information, call 612-377-2224 or visit www.guthrietheater.org. The production will also tour to Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New York.
“You are like Hercules,” Deborah tells her mother, Mary, midway through From Door to Door, James Sherman’s exploration of the differing attitudes and expectations of three generations of Jewish women. The often insightful and moving play gets a solid production in its area premiere at St. Paul’s Park Square Theatre.
The third part of the trio is Bessie, Mary’s immigrant mother. As the play moves through six decades of the lives of these three characters, we learn a lot about their desires, foibles and strengths. While seemingly based in cliches - immigrant trapped in old-world ways, mother trapped in the house, liberated daughter who discovers that the bright light of freedom can burn as well - the characters take on dimensions and depths that move this away from typical material. By the end, these three have become living, breathing people.
Give credit to playwright Sherman for that, and director Lynn Musgrave for molding the production; but much of the success here lies at the feet of the three actors. They all - Tena May Gallivan as Deborah, Nancy Gormley as Bessie and especially Miram A. Monasch as Mary - take their characters into directions you would not expect, and give them nuances far beyond what is written in the script. It even works when Gallivan and Monasch are asked to play themselves as children. It could be a cringe-worthy moment, but the actors have the skill and confidence to pull it off.
From Door to Door does suffer from some shapelessness, especially in the second act. The purpose of it - to show the growing bond between the women as they age - is clear, but some scenes drag on long after the point has been made, or meander too much as they find that balance.
These flat stretches aside, From Door to Door works, especially when the actors are able to delve deep into the hearts and souls of their characters. At those moments, they come alive and no cultural barriers can hide their humanity.
From Door to Door runs through November 13 at the Park Square Theatre in St. Paul. Call 651-291-7005, or check www.parksquaretheatre.org.