Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Measure for Measure
Also see Garrett's review of Bewilderness
The story is set in motion by Duke Vincentio (Nathan Bradshaw), who has decided to leave the government of Venice in the hands of his cousin Angelo (Wade Newhouse), hoping that Angelo will reimpose morality on this city that Vincentio has run with a lax hand. Disguising himself as a friar, the Duke stays around to learn how his people view him and how Angelo will use his new power. Angelo quickly begins to enforce existing laws, including the death penalty for fornication, and the first to be charged for that crime is Claudio (Christopher McBennett), who has made his fiancée Juliet (Rebecca Nelsen) pregnant. Claudio asks his sister Isabella (Rosemary Richards), who is on her way to the convent, to appeal to Angelo on his behalf. And Angelo actually agrees to dismiss the chargesbut only if Isabella lets him deflower her in exchange.
Director Rebecca C. Blum finds striking modern resonance in this nearly 400-year-old play, easily connecting its action and themes to current events. When Isabella threatens to reveal Angelo's ultimatum, he asks her "Who will believe thee?" and one cannot help but see the correlation to the recent #metoo movement, in which women have shared stories of sexual coercion and sexual assault by men in positions of power. Blum makes the potentially controversial decision to tinker with the ending of the play for the purpose of undercutting its conveniently happy ending, amounting to a 21st century critique of the playwright's own attitudes toward women. If this is a problem play, this production knows its answer.
Though the language of Shakespeare can be a beautiful thing to hear, it is not always the easiest for actors to fit comfortably in their mouths. This cast seems quite up to the task overall, frequently giving us access to both the meaning and the humor in their lines. As constable Elbow, Laura J. Parker relishes her contributions of comic relief, though at times that comes off as a bit overdone. Benjamin Tarlton also makes great use of his time as Claudio's friend Lucio, acting as much with his gestures as with his words. On the dramatic side, Rosemary Richards is moving and at times quite stunning as Isabella. And Kylee Silvas, in the lesser role of Mariana (a former love interest of Angelo), commands attention with the slightest whisper and drop of tear; she is a true natural.
In a production that makes a number of innovative choices, perhaps the least successful is the casting of Pompey, a pimp who makes many comically bawdy contributions. His speeches appear to be shared among a handful of young actors, all dressed in preppy khakis and whites, though the program lists Caroline Farmer in the role. It's a bit unsettling at times to watch these young people leer at the adults and make Pompey's innuendo-laden remarks.
The production moves smoothly, making strong use of the Gaddy-Goodwin black box. Scenic design by Elizabeth Newton evokes many locales in Venice, and the stone walls, ripe for graffiti, are put to excellent use. Some ill-timed lighting and sound cues at the performance I attended made for a few scenes that took place in near darkness, though to their credit the actors were unfazed. I have no doubt that Darby Madewell and John Maruca, who oversaw the lighting and sound design, will be sure to correct this.
The timelessness of the works of William Shakespeare is unquestioned. Whether it be in his comedies or his tragedies, the truths within his words ring loudly for all to hear. While Measure for Measure deserves the critique this production makes, we should acknowledge that "the quality of mercy is not strained." Both the play and this production suggest that we owe it to the women in our lives to recognize how their stories and their dignity have frequently been undermined, sometimes even by men who would seem to be their allies.
Measure for Measure, through January 27, 2019, at Raleigh Little Theatre in the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh NC. Tickets can be purchased online at www.raleighlittletheatre.org or by phone at 919-821-3111.
Playwright: William Shakespeare