Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Men Dominate in Measure for Measure

After missing the well-received Theater For A New Audience's Othello directed by Arin Arbus last year and seeing the misguided Public Theater production a few months later, I didn't want to make the same mistake with Measure For Measure. The Shakespeare dark comedy, also directed by Arbus, is playing at The Duke on 42nd Street through March 14.

It is to Arbus's credit that the story is very easy to follow in this production. The Duke of Vienna, Vincentio (Jefferson Mays) says he is leaving the city, although he is actually staying in disguise, and appoints Angelo (Rocco Sisto) as his successor. One of Angelo's first acts in his new role is to sentence Claudio (LeRoy McClain) to death for impregnating his fiance, Juliet (Rose Seccareccia), before marriage. Claudio begs his sister, Isabella (Elisabeth Waterston), on the verge of taking her holy orders, to intervene, and Claudio's lust for her prompts him to make a deal--her body for Claudio's life.

Arbus makes the decision to stage the play in contemporary times, with the actors wearing drab suits (designed by David Zinn), but this is not especially effective. While it doesn't neccessarily hurt the production, it doesn't add anything either, and there doesn't seem a compelling reason for the modern dress.

The Duke is "good," but some of his methods are questionable, such as telling Isabella that Claudio has been killed when he hasn't, and Mays captures the complexities of the character. His performance is reason enough to see the play, but sadly the others vary in their degrees of success. Waterston is especially out of her depths as Isabella, where our sympathies should lie, giving a lifeless performance. The other females also fail to make a strong impression, with the exception of Mary Testa in her small role as Mistress Overdone. Though I personally find the play to be more of a tragedy than a comedy, the comic bits are very very funny, and are served well by Alfredo Narciso as the cunning Lucio, John Christopher Jones as the dimwitted Elbow, and John Keating as the clown Pompey.

Note: I was given complimentary tickets to see the show in exchange for writing a review.

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