Goodman’s “Measure for Measure” revives Shakespeare’s classic play, setting it in the outrageous culture of the seventies and seedy nightlife of Midtown Manhattan. Director Robert Falls’ production is exciting, stimulating, and relevant – a triumphant face lift, given the piece’s age. “Measure for Measure” reveals the human desires that penetrate through time, culture and religion, reminding us that Vienna in 1623 is no far cry from today’s society.
Pimps and prostitutes stalk the streets of New York City, while pious Isabella (Alejandra Escalante) prays adamantly for the safety of her brother, Claudio (Kevin Fugaro). She ultimately makes a deal with the devil, odious Angelo (Jay Whittaker) – her brother’s life in return for her virginity.
As expected, given the caliber of Goodman Theatre, the acting is superb. The chilly plotline is anything but inviting for audiences to engage in. However, actors toil with the heavy themes with grace and fragility. Alejandra Escalante entrances audiences with a passionate, emotional performance. Easily dubbed the star of the production, her performance elicits sympathy and warmth amidst the icy piece. To counter the plot’s emotional strain, the audience is gifted with Lucio (Jeffrey Carlson), the quick-witted, comedic informant. His performance comes through as a blessing in the second act – a breath of fresh air. The ease and adroitness of his delivery, coupled with the implied smirk cemented to his face make him an audience favorite.
The production relies heavily on its backbone, the genius set design and costuming. Once the curtain is lifted, the audience is immediately transported to the psychedelic, flower-child world of the 1970’s. Walt Spangler’s multi-level set summons the Times Square of 40 years ago, lavished with neon signs and prostitutes parading in six-inch stilettos. Costume designer Ana Kuzmanic outfits every character with meticulous attention, providing even the minor players with a great presence on stage. One is immediately stricken with ADD – where to look? The man clad in aqua blue from head to toe? Perhaps the thigh-high gladiator sandals? The costuming is surely a buffet for the eyes.
Falls maintains the grim plotline of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” staying true to the nature of the piece. However, he manages to entice and entertain audiences with rare quips of outrageous comedy. At the most climactic moments, the iambic pentameter breaks to make room for a sarcastic, un-poetic retort.
A must-see for Chicago Shakespeare lovers, and those hoping to ease into the genre. Given the contemporary ambience, the funky clothes, the rather unique musical accompaniment, playgoers feel distant from the daunting, Elizabethan mindset of Shakespeare.