Measure for Measure – by Judith Edlund

April 18, 2013 in Blog by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

Measure for Measure in particular I believe to be one of the most modern of his plays even though it was originally produced in 1604.  Shakespeare is timeless and universal.  His plots and storylines are still relevant and relatable to today.  For example, the Lord Angelo character revels in using his power selfishly to fulfill his own desires and wants.   Not much has changed since Shakespeare’s time; we do whatever we can so we end up on top and get what we want.

The play centers on the fate of Claudio and when the temporary leader, Lord Angelo who is left in charge to take care of the city of New York that has fallen apart due to brothels, decay, and diseases, arrests him.  Claudio is arrested for impregnating his lover Juliet and soon to be wife before they were married and therefore sentenced to death.  Isabella. Claudio’s sister is about to enter the nunnery when she learns of her brother’s arrest.  She immediately goes to Angelo and begs him for her brother’s life.  He denies her of her pleas but suggests there might be another way to let him live, if she agrees to have sex with him.   Isabella now has to decide what to do in order to save her brothers life and keep her chastity.

Director Robert Falls decided to set the play in New York during the 1970’s.  This was an appropriate choice just like in 1604; the city was decaying.  There were brothels, prostitutes and diseases all over the place.  Back in Shakespeare’s day when James I ruled, the king decided to shut down brothels to reduce the plagues spread. Set in the 70s, the play could easily reference the AIDS plague that began during the decade’s latter years. The 70s adaptation doesn’t mean the play isn’t relatable in 2013; its focus on politics, religion, sexuality and abuse is as relevant today as at any other time in history.

The collaboration between the designers the director really allowed this play to succeed in practically everyway possible. They dived in headfirst and did not look back when it came to the gritty, dirty and diseased world of their 1970’s Measure for Measure setting. They wanted to create a colorful, jarring atmosphere to underscore both the play’s central conflicts and its dark humor.  Costume Designer Ana Kuzmanic clearly focused on the style of 70’s attire but also managed to still incorporate this sort of dirty diseased world.  The distinct choice to use acidic colors like yellow and different greens to sort of throw off the use of non-acidic colors like grey and black, and of course the popular heeled shoes the 70’s are known for.  Walt Spangler did an incredible job with designing the multi-leveled set and I was immediately transported to the gritty, dirty, rundown world of New York, thus allowing me to immerse myself into the story in its entirety. The stellar sound and lighting (designed by Richard Woodbury and Marcus Doshi, respectively) truly helped send the audience back to 1970s New York streets. We see this most clearly with the flashy neon lights and use of songs such as Donna Summer’s “Last Dance”.

The acting in this production was incredibly powerful. Each actor brought a level of maturity and experience to the production table, allowing them to focus more on their portrayal and less on their technical delivery of iambic pentameter. The actor who played Angelo (Jay Whittaker) fit the role perfectly.  He clearly portrayed Angelo of going from this honorable, law-biding citizen to a man driven by his impulsive sexual desires.  Elements of comedic relief were delivered from characters such as the spiffy Lucio (Jeffery Carlson), Pompey (Aaron Todd Douglas), and most definitely by the spikey blue haired Froth (Billy Fenderson).  The cast for this production had 25 people in it, which is a rather large cast for a Goodman production.  However, each member portrayed crucial roles; without them the story would not have succeeded in its telling.

Hurry to The Goodman Theatre to catch “Measure for Measure” before April 14th to see this story come alive and transport you back to the 70’s.  You and your friends will walk away from it wanting to talk about it, and maybe even argue over the surprise ending! You do not want to miss out on this production, it keeps you on your toes from start to finish!