“Measure for Measure”: A Problem Play for Shakespeare, but Not The Goodman – By Marisa Cullnan

April 12, 2013 in Blog by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

While Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” details the horrors of humanity and moral shortcomings of its main characters, it’s considered a comedy. Robert Falls directs one of Shakespeare’s infamous “Problem Plays” running until April 14, 2013 at the Goodman Theatre. Prostitution is involved in “Measure for Measure” and the play’s crisis revolves around sex, so the play includes sexual acts and scenes that may not be received well by some audiences.

While Shakespeare can be tricky, the actors in “Measure for Measure” did a phenomenal job with the delivery of their lines. There were moments I felt lost, but it had been roughly two years since I had really read Shakespeare and it wasn’t long before I was able to realize what was going on. Aaron Todd Douglas (Pompey)’s delivery was great. Pompey is, arguably, the funniest character in the play. Douglas delivered his lines perfectly; everyone knew when to laugh and why what he said was funny. James Newcomb (Duke) also did a fantastic job as the moral compass of the play. All actors were great at pausing and stressing certain words and phrases so the audience can translate the archaic Shakespearean dialogue into something more modern that they can understand.

What I didn’t love, however, was the ’70s theme. As wonderfully juxtaposing as it may be, I think modernized Shakespeare is cliché. (Although I may be the only one in the world who hated the modernized “Romeo & Juliet” with Leonardo DiCaprio. I mean, making the Montagues and Capulets basically gangs? Really?) I felt as though the final scene was surprising and took away from the drama of the moment; it left my friend and me asking each other what’s happening and why the actors are doing this. While it didn’t take anything away from the message of the play, at times it was distracting. The setting was very intricate: flashing lights, posters, signs, and graffiti cluttered the stage. Walt Spangler, set designer, did an amazing job with the ’70s theme without taking away from the message and emotions of the play.

The plot is very complicated and the elevated and archaic dialogue doesn’t help, so I suggest looking up the plot and characters so you’ll have an idea of what’s going on. Vincentio is the Duke of Vienna. He leaves for a diplomatic mission and puts Angelo, a strict judge, in charge of the government. Claudio is unofficially married to Juliet. The two didn’t observe all the technicalities that couples were supposed to in order to have an official marriage. To most people and the church, they were seen as married. However a strict judge could rule that they’re not legally married. Juliet is pregnant with Claudio’s child and Angelo decided to enforce the ruling that fornication is punishable by death since he doesn’t accept the validity of the marriage. Lucio, Claudio’s friend, visits Isabella, a nun in training and Claudio’s sister, and asks her to intervene. Isabella faces a moral and religious challenge when Angelo offers her a deal: Claudio’s life for Isabella’s virginity. Madness ensues, so keep a lookout for characters going undercover; it can be confusing.

While sexuality can be hard to portray effectively and not make the audience uncomfortable, Falls does a great job incorporating the sexual theme and sexual acts into the play without the awkwardness that usually ensues. “Measure for Measure” has an interesting plot and The Goodman’s cast is packed with fantastic actors who are led by a great director. On a side note, Shakespearean insults are the best; who else besides Shakespeare can call someone such an awful name and have it sound like poetry? Absolutely no one. “I was searching for a fool when I found you,” and “Thou smell like mountain goat,” are gems from “As You Like It” and “Henry V” respectively. I’m sure you’ll find a good insult to use from Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure.”