Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure is not a play that deals in easy answers, but Jonathan Munby’s new production at the Shakespeare Theatre makes no problem of losing yourself in a night of spectacle. When a pair of strippers in nun’s habits open their robes and spin their tasseled breasts, it’s hard to think about your groceries.
Natascia Diaz as Mariana, Jack Wetherall as Escalus, Scott Parkinson as Angelo and Kurt Rhoads as The Duke  (Photo by Scott Suchman.)

Natascia Diaz as Mariana, Jack Wetherall as Escalus, Scott Parkinson as Angelo and Kurt Rhoads as The Duke (Photo by Scott Suchman.)

Yes—this Shakespeare performance begins with strippers, as a pre-show cabaret flows seamlessly into the action of the play.

The prelude is a lively pastiche of 1930s Vienna, with a series of stylized interactions establishing subtext for the performance. Natascia Diaz shines with her impression of a drunk Edith Piaf long before she is introduced as Mariana, and a man who is soon revealed as the Duke (Kurt Rhoads) is seen giving into homosexual urges and subsequent rage. In addition to providing a juicy backstory for the characters, this prelude marks the first-ever solution to Washington audiences’ fatal allergy to seating themselves on time.

While the cast is a bit more reserved after the cabaret, the spectacle continues. A set design by Alexander Dodge punctuates the performance with prison bars and bookshelves that slide around in perfect symmetry to the original music of Adam Wernick. The design and music cohere in an evocative design that echoes the tension between the characters and their society’s rigid mores.

The Duke leaves the pious Angelo (Scott Parkinson) in charge of Vienna, thinking him a virtuous surrogate, but his unchecked obsession with rules leads him to tyranny, tearing down the suburbs of Vienna and sentencing Avery Clark’s bright-faced Claudio to death for getting his lover pregnant out of wedlock. When his sister Isabella (the earnest and powerful Miriam Silverman) goes to plead with Angelo, he assaults her. This visceral struggle is the high point of the performance, with a power play as arresting and relevant as that of its 20th-century descendant, Oleanna. After the assault, Isabel drives home her desperation with the iconic question,“To whom should I complain? Did I tell this, who would believe me?”

Recommended
Measure for Measure
Closes October 27, 2013
Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th Street NW
Washington, DC
2 hours, 45 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $40 – $100
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details
Tickets
 
Taken as a whole, Measure for Measure has a powerful impact, but I found it strangely wanting of immediacy and originality in its individual performances. The risque opening whet my appetite for bold choices, but the acting that followed was unsatisfyingly conventional. While Kurt Rhoads’ Duke brings thoughtful clarity to his soliloquies, his involvement in the action lacks intention and urgency. Scott Parkinson’s characterization of the shrewish Angelo brought a moment of levity when he was haunted by alluring nuns, but at times he showed us a stiff actor rather than a stiff character.

One exception is Natascia Diaz, who turns what could be a functionary role into a memorable presence with her campy, maudlin treatment of Mariana.

Nonetheless, Jonathan Munby’s production succeeds at raising the big questions of the play: What should we do when morality diverges from humanity, virtue from goodness? How can we be punished for doing what is natural? These tensions are not easily resolved, and linger on long after the curtain.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Measure for Measure begins with bawdy nuns and leaves you with powerful questions to ponder. With it’s polished (albeit predictable) performances and flawless spectacle of music and design, I call it a success.

Get seated early for the floor show. Cameron Folmar as Lucio and ensemble members Gracie Terzian, S. Lewis Feemster, Jacqui Jarrold and Amber Mayberry (Photo by Scott Suchman)

Get seated early for the floor show. Cameron Folmar as Lucio and ensemble members Gracie Terzian, S. Lewis Feemster, Jacqui Jarrold and Amber Mayberry (Photo by Scott Suchman)

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Measure for Measure  by William Shakespeare . Directed by Jonathan Munby . Featuring Miriam Silverman, Scott Parkinson,  Kurt Rhoads,  Avery Clark, J. Kenneth Campbell, Andrew Criss, , Katie deBuys, Natascia Diaz,  Cameron Folmar, Dan Istrate, Naomi Jacobson,  John Lescault, Hugh Nees, Ned Noyes, Jack Wetherall, S. Lewis Feemster, Jacqui Jarrold, Manu Kumasi, Michael Litchfield, Amber Mayberry, Jack Powers, Gracie Terzian and Jaysen Wright. Set Designer: Alexander Dodge . Costume Designe:r Linda Cho. Lighting Designer: Philip Rosenberg .  Composer: Adam Wernick . Sound Designer: Walter Trarbach and Choreographer Daniel Pelzig . Produced by Shakespeare Theatre Company . Reviewed by J. Robert Williams.

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Other reviews:

Susan Berlin . Talkin’Broadway
Kate Wingfield . MetroWeekly
Charles Shubow . BroadwayWorld
Bob Ashby . ShowBizRadio
Trey Graham . City Paper
Peter Marks . Washington Post
Sophie Gilbert . Washingtonian
Elizabeth Bruce . MDTheatreGuide

John Harding . DCMetroTheaterArts 

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