An eccentric, yet enticing approach to Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure – by Frankie Hermanek

April 30, 2013 in Blog by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

Shakespeare’s plays have been performed for centuries. However, it’s when the setting and context of the age-old script changes that things get more interesting. The Goodman Theatre’s 70’s style interpretation Measure for Measure was certainly unconventional, yet intriguing. Utilizing shameless prostitutes, fences of unsanitary prisons, and devout members of the Catholic Church, the production certainly took quite an artistic license.

I enjoy Shakespeare to an extent, but am not an enthusiast; I need time and a script in front of me to break down the story and understand what’s going on. The play was very well done in the acting and technical effects. The comedic timing the director and actors took the liberty of inserting into the lines worked very well. Upon the eve of another Goodman show, I go in expecting to be inspired, as the theater has consistently been capable of doing. Though the story of Measure for Measure did not move me and entertain me as much as I would have liked, the Goodman worked remarkably well with the story and made it as entertaining as possible.

The one thing that absolutely blew me away was the set. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly and well done the tech crew at the Goodman design, build, and take down the set to prepare for each new show, completely transforming the theater. The amount of work from outside was outstanding, not even acknowledging all of the effort put in behind the scenes. The set stretched to the top of the theater, providing a very three dimensional look with its many layers and hanging scenery. Though it was detailed and grand, it was not overdone. It provided the perfect setting for the Goodman’s take on the play.

Robert Falls, the director of Measure for Measure, has certainly marked his place in American theater before his premiere of the show at the Goodman. He has produced very successful shows around the country, including Broadway. In fact, he produced one of my favorite musicals of all time, Aida. That being said, his take on Measure for Measure reflected the artistic creativity he has honed in his greatest shows. The story of this Shakespearean play centers on a city of degrading morale, the streets breeding prostitution. Isabella, a devout young nun played by Alejandra Escalante, takes her brother’s life into her own hands when he is condemned to death by a new law enforcer, Lord Angelo (Jay Whittaker). An attempt to rebuild a corrupt city leads to questions of trust in authority and the moral standards of everyone involved; what measures will Isabella go to save the life of her brother?

The Goodman took Shakespeare’s script and just ran with it, but in the most creative manner. It was unexpected and strange, but I loved it. I think the audience responded well to the approach, too. Despite the fact that I sat in my seat asking myself what I had just seen when the curtain closed, I really respected and appreciated the intense and innovative creative process. As many can attest, seeing a Shakespeare play for the first time can bring about confusion. Hence, a script in hand to follow along would be very convenient. Though I can’t say I completely understood what happened in the story, the play was incredibly engaging in other ways; I still found it humorous despite my inability to follow the story! The very different approach to the context and setting of Shakespeare’s old script worked very well with the help of a talented cast, remarkable set, and compelling directing.