“Measure for Measure” is a dark tale of virtue vs. vice and lust vs. law, and yet it is… a comedy? It’s no wonder that the play has been noted to be a “problem play” of Shakespeare. Yet, under the direction of Robert Falls, Goodman Theatre’s production of “Measure for Measure” has no problem in creating a wildly hilarious and successful production.
Falls chooses to relocate Shakespeare’s tale from debauched Vienna to dark and seedy 1970s New York. The move is absolutely seamless and does not distract from the plot while being realistic to both the early 1600s and the 1970s. Walt Spangler’s gritty set design, complete with neon lights and graffiti-covered walls, is visually intense in the best way possible (the fact that there is garbage on the stage, which was intentionally put there, still amazes me).
The city is fraught with pestilence; what is supposed to be a great city comes to be the home of corrupt politicians and multitudes of prostitutes. In order to redeem the town, the Duke (James Newcomb) takes a leave, goes undercover under the guise of a priest and leaves the manipulative Lord Angelo (Jay Whittaker) in charge. Along with closing all the brothels in town, Angelo also manages to arrest and sentence Claudio (Kevin Fugaro) to death. Claudio’s sister and nun-to-be Isabella (Alejandra Escalante) becomes caught in having to protect her own dignity or saving her brother’s life when Angelo leaves her with a problematic decision to make.
Against this backdrop, seeing the comedy is a difficult challenge. So where exactly does the hilarity lie? It falls in the hands of the portrayals of the original text. Jay Whittaker as Angelo reveals his character’s inexplicable feelings and sexual thoughts through awkward mannerisms that elicits from the audience wild laughter. Another scene stealer? Jeffrey Carlson as Lucio—and it is not only because he is dressed head-to-toe in a striking shade of aqua (hats off to costume designer Ana Kuzmanic). Carlson’s Lucio speaks before he thinks and looks to no consequences as he expresses his thoughts. He’s the center of many laughs throughout the production. Aaron Todd Douglas also should also be commended in his performance as Pompey. He talks the Shakespearean talk, yet walks the disco-stylized walk, and it is thoroughly enjoyable to see his fresh take in modernizing a Shakespeare character.
At the end of the production is a drastic change—so drastic, in fact, that it may very well cause audience members to freeze in disbelief, with only this to say: “What just happened?!” Some may applaud it; others may be ridden with fury. Unfortunately, that’s all I can say.
If you’re a prospective audience member looking for an enjoyable night filled with utter laughter, look no further. However, Falls no doubt took the raunchiness of the disco days seriously. Therefore, please be aware of nudity and the bawdy humor of the production.
A much modernized Shakespeare production, Goodman Theatre’s production of “Measure for Measure” exploits the juxtaposition between vice and virtue upon a vivid backdrop. Falls seamlessly takes on of Shakespeare’s “problems” and transforms the play into a night of enjoyment, laughter and wonderful satire.