"Condemn The Fault & Not The Actor Of It"


It's an unfortunate production of Measure for Measure running at the Shakespeare Theater until the end of the month. The photo above tells you why. The setting is pre-war Vienna, which adds nothing of interest to the story, but does allow the director to add a lewd 20-minute pre-show homage to Cabaret to the performance-- this one with simulated sex acts and stripper nuns. We arrived only for the last five minutes of it and I still was about one second from stomping out in a huff. 

Once the play actually starts there's almost nothing more of that. We had to SEE how debauched everything was, don't you see, in order to understand what Angelo, the emergency back-up Duke, is cleaning up in the Duke's absence. And of course when the lights go out and the police come in to stop the indecency, they are dressed in black with red armbands. Sigh. Because only a fascist would stop public sex acts. I really thought we had exhausted the theatrical trope of always cladding every military or police force in black with red arm bands back in the '80s, but apparently not.

That seems to be all director Jonathan Munby thinks is at stake in Measure for Measure -- so he's cast as Angelo a slim, slight actor to play a sniveling little weasel who yells at everyone all the time. He's not doing what he thinks is right; he's just what I call a perky little tyrant on a power trip. I'm not going to say it's a bad performance as far as it goes, but it's one so utterly out of tone with my concept of the play that I had cognitive dissonance the whole first half. No, no, no! If there is no sincerity or goodness in Angelo, there is also no drama. The whole story turns on his utter sincerity and desire to do right -- and then his humiliating discovery that he in fact has disordered passions in himself just like everyone else.

The evening isn't a total loss. We saw it a few nights after Pope Francis' interview with all the Jesuit journals was released and had been reading Catholics of various stripes contending over Francis' concept of mercy -- the text seemed highly relevant and deepened our contemplation. You can't ever REALLY ruin a Shakespeare play so long as the words can be heard, no matter how much you as director haven't the foggiest what's really happening. And in spite of my distaste for the entire show pre-intermission, the second half picked up (largely because there's much less of Angelo onstage). The judgment scene in which the grievously wronged Isabella kneels to join her friend in a plea for Angelo's life is deeply moving in spite of everything -- and causes me to forgive a lot.