Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Robust "American Shakespeare" Marks NJST Measure for Measure
Also see Bob's review of Regrets Only
Vincentio, the governor of New Mexico, has decided that it is time to establish a climate of law and order. In order to curb the climate of permissiveness and licentiousness that has prevailed, laws governing public morality which have long been ignored and flaunted will henceforth be enforced. Before ostensibly traveling out of state, the governor tells his advisor Escalus that he is appointing Angelo attorney-general and providing him with his governor's full authority to execute the law in order to restore moral authority.
The premises of the local tavern also serves as a brothel under the management of its madam, Mistress Overdone. Among the customers are reporter Lucio, two feuding older gents still in remnants of their Civil War uniforms (one wears blue and one wears grey) and a Native American bartender. Mistress Overdone informs them that Angelo has arrested the well respected lad Claudio and ordered him executed for fornication as a result of his having gotten his girlfriend Juliet pregnant. She has also heard that Angelo is intent on shutting down the brothels.
The arrested Claudio passes by in the custody of the sympathetic sheriff and his deputy. Claudio asks Lucio to go to his sister, Isabella, who has taken vows and is in a convent, and let her know of his predicament. Claudio wants Isabella to ask Angelo to pardon him. After first refusing Isabella's plea, Angelo is overcome by his lust for her, and tells her that he will only pardon her brother in exchange for her having conjugal relations with him. Placing her morality above saving the life of her brother, Isabella refuses him.
There is more, much more to come. And it is presented here in so delightful, clear and accessible a fashion that it is recommended that you experience it for yourself. It is not the transposition of the play from Vienna to New Mexico that makes this first rate American Shakespeare. It is the loose and lively contemporary feel of the performances and the clear, confident, smooth American intonation and pronunciation given to the Bard's words that make it so.
Of course, the dialogue still places events in Vienna, and the titles, offices and names essentially remain the same. As the plot unwinds, it is clear that Measure for Measure is one of Shakespeare's "problem comedies." There is a considerable amount of darkness and cruelty in the jape (trick or practical joke) of Vincentio which sets matters aright and comprises the greater part of this play. Rampant hypocrisy and duplicity is depicted. One of the major social issues of today is directly addressed as the Bard makes a strong case against small minded, judgmental, merciless piety. At the same time, there is much pleasurable wit, good humor and satisfaction as Angelo receives his comeuppance.
David Manis is a straightforward Vincentio, adding a nice bit of comic bumptiousness to Vincentio's impersonation. January LaVoy as Isabella and Wayne Meledandri as the comically untrustworthy Lucio best convey the free-wheeling freshness which is the hallmark of this production. Michael Milligan as Angelo nicely transitions from bureaucratic coldness to evil passion. Raphael Nash Thompson is solid as the decent but irresolute Escalus. Stephen Tyrone Williams is on target as the passionate but confused Claudio. Elizabeth Shepherd is a delight as Mistress Overdone. In fact, the entire cast contributes to the evening's pleasure.
The Western setting (law and morality come to the Old West) works rather well. While lightly suggested in Marion Williams' basic, wooden unit set, the time and place are particularly evocative and eye pleasing in the striking costumes of Clint Ramos. For both his concept and execution, the lion's share of the credit for this production belongs to director Jack Wetherall.
Measure for Measure is the fourth of eight productions scheduled for NJST's expanded 2007 season. With each of this season's Shakespeare plays, the illuminating Henry V, the enchanting A Midsummer's Night Dream and now, the fresh, Americanized Measure for Measure, the Shakespeare Theatre has brought world class Shakespeare to New Jersey .
Measure for Measure continues performances (Tues. 7:30 p.m./ Wed.-Sat. 8 p.m./ Sat.-Sun. 2 p.m./ Sun. 7 p.m.) through July 29, 2007 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940. Box Office: 973-408-5600. online www.shakespeareNJ.org.
Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare; directed by Jack Wetherall