In its last stop before New York City (at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn), the Globe Theatre's production of Measure for Measure is spending two weeks entertaining audiences of new and seasoned Shakespeare fans, and groups of lucky students, at the O'Reilly Theater. Employing "original practices" with an all-male cast, and period music and clothing, this production, like the company's Twelfth Night in 2003, is a rich respite from the more typical reinventions of the Bard's work. This straightforward production benefits from the talents of the company, under the direction of John Dove, to draw the audience in, creating a festival-like fusion of performers and spectators.
In his final season as the company's artistic director, the legendary Mark Rylance portrays Duke Vincentio, the linchpin of this tale of lust, hypocrisy and justice. The Duke temporarily leaves his throne; as his replacement, he names Angelo (Liam Brennan), a moralist who quickly resurrects a law against sexual activity out of wedlock. This throws the brothels and their madams and bawds into a tizzy (and into jail). Also arrested is Claudio (David Sturzaker), sentenced to death for impregnating his fiancee Juliet (David Harley). Claudio's sister, the chaste Isabella (Edward Hogg), approaches Angelo seeking mercy for her brother. Angelo is willing, but only if Isabella surrenders her virginity to him. Isabella, as expected, is shocked and she refuses this deal. Through the help of the Duke, now disguised as a friar in order to view the rule of Angelo and the reactions of his subjects, Angelo is tricked into thinking Isabella has consented. However, Angelo shows his duplicitous nature by not honoring his dishonorable offer - he will not pardon Claudio. Eventually, the Duke returns as ruler, and all is logically and morally sorted out.
With dazzling costuming, plus nuanced and consummate acting, the cast makes us forget there is essentially no set, and that men are portraying women. Rylance affects a somewhat fussy demeanor as Duke Vincentio, using a halting speech pattern that evokes an accessible and contemplative royal. His subtlety during humorous moments is potent, lightening just a bit the matters of life and death. Brennan's very serious and conflicted Angelo is also excellently portrayed, and Hogg is exceptional in his touching portrayal of Isabella. Other standouts include the flirty Peter Shorey as (madam) Mistress Overdone and John Dougall as Overdone's servant (pimp).
The music - on instruments including jew's harp, recorder, dulcimer, bagpipes, and drum - is gorgeous (Keith Thompson musical directs), as is the singing of the company members.
Measures for Measure, co-presented by Pittsburgh Public Theatre and The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, continues at the O'Reilly Theater through December 18. For tickets and performance information, visit www.pgharts.org.
This year's director and choreographer, Jason Coll, guides his cast with care at a brisk pace, which may be a key to the success of a story experienced for the umpteenth time. The production elements do not show their age; costuming by Kimberly Wick and Costume World, lighting by Andrew David Ostrowski, and sets by D Martyn Bookwalter all support the game cast for audience-pleasing results. Musical arrangements and performances are inspirational and very well done.
Jeff Howell and Diane Hines make a fine Bob and Mrs. Cratchit, with young Joseph Serafini a sweet-voiced Tiny Tim. Erik Schark (Marley's Ghost and Young Marley), Joe Pedulla (Fred), Paul Domencic (Young Scrooge), and Amanda Serra (Ghost of Christmas Past) all turn in fresh and dedicated performances. As everyone's favorite party hosts, the Fezziwigs, Tim Hartman is given maybe a tad too much license in ad-libbing (though he's a crowd favorite) and Terry Wickline yet again shows her dependability as a deft comedic character actress.
As the advertising tagline says, "Feel the spirits move you!" and go see A Musical Christmas Carol, at the cozy Byham Theater through December 23. For performance and ticket information, visit www.pittsburghclo.org.