Imagine New York in the 1970’s and add the ideals of a Shakespeare play, such as simple character disguises and language.
“Measure for Measure,” which recently opened at The Goodman Theatre was the best modern Shakespeare adaptation I’ve seen, using the old language with modern meanings. It was a job well done for director Robert Falls.
The stage opens on a praying nun surrounded with dancing strippers, a man with a prostitute holding a gun to his head, and flashing neon signs in the grunge of New York, piling all levels of the stage.
The Duke (James Newcomb) has decided to temporarily hand over his duties to his deputy, Angelo (Jay Whittaker). Angelo takes over with a harsh attitude and convicts a man, Claudio (Kevin Fugaro), for impregnating his fiancée, Juliet (Celeste M. Cooper).
Claudio’s sister, Isabella (Alejandra Escalante), is a novice nun and is faced with either saving her brother’s life or keeping her virtue when pleading for her brother’s life in Angelo’s quarters. The Duke disguises himself as a priest and assists Isabella throughout the play. This disguise is quite simply only a pair of glasses, satirizing Shakespeare’s times.
Robert Falls took many risks by changing the setting and time of the play. But having it set in the 1970s actually added quite a bit of flare to the story. The actors all had such an excellent grasp of the story and were able to blend Falls’ additions with original Shakespeare script.
Alejandra brought raw talent to the character of Isabella who must undergo many terrifying events as a character and still remain strong. She showed the drama of the play and managed to keep that up through the entire show.
“Measure for Measure” is also amazing for its comedic aspects, wonderfully displayed by Jeffrey Carlson who played Lucio, a townsman. I was transfixed with Lucio (possibly due to the all blue suit he was wearing) even when he wasn’t speaking, even though he had many of the hilarious lines.
Throughout the show, the integration of music was seamless and held the show together. Many of the scenes began with a slow motion entrance by the ensemble, and some of the main characters, and then would disperse into the start of the scene. This added a movie-effect and made it even more entertaining.
The final scene was by far the most important in the play with its revelations, confusing plot twists, and, yes, even a final dance break. I was left quite confused but not disappointed, because I was entertained till the curtain hit the stage.
There is nudity and scandal in this story, but I still strongly recommend this play, even to those who aren’t Shakespeare fans. I was expecting a typical production of a traditional Shakespeare and was thoroughly shocked, in a good way, when that was not the case.