Goodman Theatre’s “Measure for Measure,” directed by Robert Falls, offers an unoriginal but wildly entertaining perspective to a classic Shakespearian tale. Set in New York City in the ’70s, the play relates issues of race and hierarchy during the disco decade to issues of love and hierarchy in Shakespearian Vienna.
The actors involved in the play do a fantastic job of portraying their characters. Whittaker is incredibly believable in his portrayal of Angelo as a power-hungry egomaniac with no morals and no values. Opposite of him, Escalante does a wonderful, over-the-top performance as Isabella, who is hardheaded and stubborn in her morals, values and beliefs. She presents Isabella with as much strife as Shakespeare intended. The actors, overall, successfully portray what 17th century London was like, with corrupted power figures in office and excessive religion and morality.
“Measure for Measure” follows the duke of the city (James Newcomb) as he disguises himself as a priest and directs the flow of government within the slums of Vienna. Claudio (Kevin Fugaro) has been sentenced to death by Angelo (Jay Whittaker), deputy in charge of the city until the duke “returns,” for being engaged and impregnating a woman, Juliet (Celeste M. Cooper), outside of matrimony. Isabella (Alejandra Escalante) plays Claudio’s audacious little sister who is determined to convince Angelo to let Claudio live. The plot twists when Angelo promises to free Claudio—as long as Isabella gives her virginity to him. The play results, not surprisingly, in death for one and a happy ending for the rest of the characters.
The plot is not difficult to follow, but the aspects that Falls brings to the play, such as the slow transitions, when the characters walk slowly across the stage to move into a new scene, are unnecessary. The transitioning characters between scenes is interesting, but leaves the mind wondering, “Why is that in the play?” Falls would have been better off leaving them out of the play, seeing as they don’t have a real purpose.
The last scene is a dance to a Donna Summer’s ’70s hit “Last Dance” performed by all of the characters. It is easy to see why Falls chose the hit song as a backdrop for the last scene, but it is unclear why it is needed at all, besides to amuse the audience. Even though the song is unnecessary, it is understandable as to why Falls includes it. The amusement is worth the confusion, as the last scene is one of pure fun for the audience and probably the cast too.
“Measure for Measure” at Goodman Theatre takes an overused modern version of Shakespeare and gives it life again. By the end of it, the audience will be abuzz with awe.