Jul 3, 2019
by Jeanie K. Smith , San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
One of Shakespeare’s so-called “problem plays,” Measure for Measure is not often produced, defying genre classification and posing an enigmatic ending. But the current production in Marin deftly dispels any doubts about the entertainment potential of the play, giving us an amusing, touching, and rousing rendition that is surprisingly resonant for today. Clever staging and excellent performances along with some original elements makeMarin Shakespeare Company’s 30th anniversary something to happily celebrate.
The crazily complex plot features Duke Vincentio (a nimble Patrick Russell) taking a sabbatical from governing and leaving the State in the hands of Angelo (Joseph Patrick O’Malley). Angelo is known to be strict, but also moral and learned. But the Duke takes the disguise of a friar in order to stay behind and spy on his own administration— the why of this isn’t entirely clear, although he tells Friar Peter (Neil Thollander) that he wonders if laws change with a change of ruler. He fears he has been too slack in administering justice, ignoring ancient laws and enforcing others at his will. When Angelo takes power, how will the people be affected?
An innocent enough question that becomes compelling when Angelo upholds a dated law against fornication and imposes a penalty of death on Claudio (Brennan Pickman-Thoon)— Claudio’s marriage to Juliette (Julia Saunders) lacked certain technicalities, and her pregnancy makes the deed obvious. But everyone in the town abhors the strict imposition of the law and its deadly consequence. Claudio’s friend Lucio (Ariel Zuckerman) persuades Claudio’s sister Isabella (a luminous Luisa Frasconi) to plead with Angelo for leniency— and thus is set in motion the discoveries that will unmask Angelo, involve the Duke/Friar in schemes to bring him down, and engage others in the movement to save Claudio and even the government.
A timely, cautionary tale concerning corruption, hypocrisy, and the measure of wise governance, the play leaves no character unblemished, and raises more questions than it answers, providing much food for thought about the proper role of government in peoples’ lives. Director Robert Currier and his team have added modern language in rapping scene changes written and performed by LeMar “Maverick” Harrison as well as protest signs apt to generate applause. Both devices clarify the play’s themes of resistance to harsh laws and unjust rulings, and amplify the resonance for contemporary issues.
The three principals— Russell, O’Malley, andFrasconi— are positively masterful in their portrayals, bringing nuances of conflicted feelings and internal debates to the fore. O’Malley manages to keep Angelo believably human, avoiding a villainous caricature.
They’re supported by an excellent ensemble, including Zuckerman as Lucio, a delightful comic relief, until he becomes another hapless victim of bad governance. Standouts also include the very funnyThollander as Elbow, Ed Berkeleyas petty criminal Pompey, andIsabelle Grimmas two totally opposite characters, Mistress Overdone and Mariana. It’s a strong cast throughout, with definite purpose and commitment.
Clever scenic design byJackson Currier and contemporary costumes by Tammy Berlin add greatly to the overall spectacle. Robert Currier’s concept makes sense of Shakespeare’s complexity and turns the play into something relatable and of modern interest. The interpretation of the Bard’s enigmatic ending brilliantly puts the cap on the whole effect.
Celebrate 30 years of Marin Shakespearewith their lively season opener, sure to set your thoughts in motion.
Measure for Measure
By William Shakespeare
Presented by Marin Shakespeare Company through July 21, 2019
Thu/Fri/Sat at 8:00pm, Sun at 4:00pm
Tickets: $10 - $38 General, vrs. discounts available
Forest Meadows Amphitheatre,
Dominican University Campus,
Photo by Steve Underwood and Jay Yamada
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