Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
Measure for Measure: The Immersive Experience
It would be wise to review a synopsis of the play before you arrive. Instead of the decadent city of Vienna in Shakespeare's time, the action now takes place in the 1970s in the city of "Lost Wages." The exposition takes the form of brief snatches of conversation during the opening scene, which is set in a club with music loud enough to drown out the actors' voices. (Those with younger ears may have less difficulty.) If you already know the background of the play, you can just kick back and enjoy the fun.
From the moment you are led, blindfolded, into the dance club, you will be askedindeed, compelledto interact with the performers as the story progresses. Different audience members will find themselves on different tracks, as the actors lead them off in ones and twos to experience different scenes. This reviewer's individual tracka coke-fueled téte-á-téte in the ladies' room, blackjack and wine at the brothel bar, followed by arrest and imprisonmentwas certainly entertaining. Another audience member was taken to a convent to learn catechism, then took part in a political protest. YMMV.
We don't actually hear any of Shakespeare's language until about one-third of the way into the 65-minute performance. This scene, in which Isabel pleads with Angelo for her brother's life, is traditionally staged rather than immersive. The language, style, and deliberate pacing of the scene mark an abrupt shift from the contemporary language, improvisational style, and 1970s club vibe of everything that precedes it. The contrast does not heighten the drama; it simply says "okay, here's the Shakespeare part." The performance then returns to the interactive mode until the final scene, when Shakespeare's text reappears.
The performers who declaim in the traditional scenes are the same ones who interact with us in the colloquial mode, and the discrepancy undermines our engagement. It might be more effective if the production dispensed with Shakespeare's text entirely, or interspersed it more frequently throughout the performance rather than confining it to two large blocks that stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.
The actors are not to blame; they do a fine job of straddling the worlds of improvisation and classical theatre. In the interactive scenes, they deliver the exposition in juicy tidbits, by confiding, gossiping, and chit-chatting with us individually and in small groups. When they tackle Shakespeare's scenes, their stage presence is effective, and they handle the original text well. Ronn L. Williams is especially commanding as the Mayor. Amanda Guardado conveys Isabel's passion and dignity. Natalie Senecal is convincing as Mariana, and Rebecca Reyes is a winsome Julia. Bob Gratrix brings refreshing comedy as jailhouse lawyer Bernard Bernard.
Majestic Repertory's black box theatre has been divided up into multiple rooms for this event. The Design Ninjas' set designs for City Hall and the brothel bar are especially effective.
Given the rollercoaster ride and the (relatively) happy ending that precedes it, the show's final note comes up a bit short. The production obviously needs to clear the theatre quickly to make room for the next block of patrons (there are multiple performances per night). Still, in a show that emphasizes the party atmosphere of 1970s "Lost Wages," abruptly ordering us to leave seems discordant when we are debouched into the heart of Vegas, and the night is young.
Measure for Measure: The Immersive Experience, through October 21, 2018, at Alios, 1217 S. Main St., Las Vegas NV. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7pm, 8:30pm, and 10pm; Sundays at 5pm and 6:30pm. For tickets ($25 general admission; $15 students) and further information, go to www.majesticrepertory.com.