Reviewed by Guy Picot
Sometimes the social and political climate makes a centuries-old play seem supernaturally prophetic. So it is with MEASURE FOR MEASURE, currently being staged by Antaeus Theatre Company. The sparse production focuses squarely on Isabella (Carolyn Ratteray) as a victim of sexual abuse by someone in authority who considers himself above the law.
The play starts with some raucous debauchery representing Viennese low-life downstage, while the upright Duke (Paul Culos) observes from his platformed office. He decides to go undercover disguised as a friar and leave the city in the hands of his deputy Angelo.
The busy cast of ten play twenty characters between them and very nearly make a virtue of necessity. Having the same actor (the doubly good Ramon de Ocampo) playing both Angelo and the imprisoned Claudio is a great idea for ninety percent of the play until they actually both needed to be in the last scene.
The seemingly simple set by Frederica Nascimento comprises a period-looking platform center, and what would normally be the wings (pillars and all) are utilized as a prison and nunnery. Effective lighting design by Matt Richter brings atmosphere to the largely empty space.
The direction, credited to Armin Shimerman and Elizabeth Swain is swift and clear, the whole production feels like the theatrical equivalent of an “unplugged” album, with very little to get in the way of the words.
The sexual politics go a little awry at the end when we realize that the miracle-working Duke wants Isabella for himself but it leaves the audience with something to think about rather than the intended neat happy ending.
Paul Eiding, doing triple duty, brings a welcome assurance to the comedy of Elbow and Barnadine, and a kind authority to a Friar.
The dense language is handled well by all the cast, particularly Ratteray as the wronged Isabella. Aaron Lyons (Pompey) and Bo Foxworth (Lucio) work hard to produce laughs but some seventeenth-century jokes age better than others.
The mixed era costumes are by Allison Dillard and serve well as much-needed character signifiers.
Photo by Jenny Graham: Aaron Lyons and Rhonda Aldrich
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One response to “Antaeus Theater Updates a Centuries Old Play in ‘Measure for Measure’”
Love this play!