Read director Aaron Holbritter’s insightful note about this “problem” play that critic Mark Van Doren has said is “still unsatisfactory in some way that is difficult to define.”
In an effort to make the themes of “Measure for Measure” relevant to all time, Holbritter has brought considerable imagination to his staging of this complex script. With the help of costume designer Beth Ruman and set designer Rich Montena, the characters are dressed in clothing from various periods, inhabit a stage adorned with both electric lights and Renaissance features, and speak with an array of accents.
The story: Because he feels Vienna suffers from his lax governance, Duke Vincentio (Robin MacDuffie) announces he will leave the city for a while, turning over state affairs to Angelo (Andrew Vroman), a strict moralist, and Escalus (John Sutton), a wise elder.
‘Measure for Measure’
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Players, 12 S. Church St.
WHEN: Through Mar. 20
HOW MUCH: $17
MORE INFO: 382.2081, or civicplayers.org
Instead of traveling, however, the Duke masquerades as a friar so that he can move among his people and discover what’s going on. In short order, Angelo has condemned to death Claudio (Samuel Lawkins), for impregnating his girlfriend, Juliet (Sierra Lynch), and rejected the cries for mercy of Claudio’s sister, Isabella (Laura Graver). But in a moment of hypocrisy, Angelo puts the moves on Isabella, and things turn mighty sour (involving a discarded lover, nicely played by Sara Paupini) for a while before the Duke unmasks himself and restores order. Unfortunately, the denouement is terribly long — Shakespeare at his most tedious.
I read the play shortly before opening night; you might want to, to keep things straight. To MacDuffie fall pages and pages of dialogue, of which he seems not yet to have a full grasp. Young Vroman and Lawkins are sometimes difficult to understand because of speed or articulation. Nevertheless, they believably convey the personalities of their characters with deliberate movement and vivid facial expressions.
John Sutton delivers his lines with force and clarity, making Escalus a man with good intentions even if he can’t always see the forest for the trees.
Isabella is a young woman whose black-and-white view of the world (at the beginning of the play she is headed for the convent) becomes increasingly gray. Graver credibly captures Isabella’s reactions to these changes and delivers her lengthy speeches with fire.
It’s the comic elements of the script that most succeed in this production, thanks to the work of Rich Angehr, Jean T. Carney, Amy M. Lane, William M. Sanderson, Gene Sirotof and Jennifer Van Iderstyne.
Ian LaChance proves once again what a savvy actor he is, with a nuanced take on Lucio, a pot-stirrer and an observer of the roiled pot. LaChance’s Lucio doesn’t enter a scene; he insinuates himself.
And Richard Michael Roe has a field day as Pompey, a pimp from Jersey. The entire evening is worth Roe’s delivery of Pompey’s speech to the audience, implicating us in hypocrisy when it comes to sex and power. Every time Roe glides onto the stage, hilarity ensues.
Shakespeare: Never easy. This play? Harder still. But kudos to Holbritter and company for taking the measure of it with such gusto.