Review by Danny Gaisin
A couple of millennia ago; St. Matthew, leaving the ‘sermon on the Mount’ made some observations about hypocrisy. He talked about ‘doing unto others; responding fairly & in kind; and judging – measure for measure. The Bard plagiarized the apostle’s quote for a play about just that – “what you do is what you get” and MEASURE FOR MEASURE serio-comedically illustrates that scenario. Director Martha Henry has taken some liberties too, but the message is still effective. Photo by Michael Cooper
Photo by Michael Cooper
She’s moved the period to 1949 post-war Europe with some not-so-subtle residual Fascist stereotypes. The Catholic Church is less of a villain and the plot machinations less oblique. Thus, a kinder, gentler M4M! The Patterson proscenium layout adds an intimacy to what is happening on stage.
Briefly, the plot deals with a Duke who decides to semi-abdicate in order to allow an upright & uptight officer – Escalus, to exercise Draconian countermeasures in order to offset a decline in morality. Screw around and you’ll hang! El Duke can then pass among his subjects dressed as a friar, and like Pope John XXIII; meet his constituents and get the real ‘skinny’. Escalus gets a yen for the sister of a philanderer he’s condemned; offers her a for the brother in exchange for her virginity. She refuses; Duke overhears and schemes to give Escalus his come-uppance.
Henry’s cast selections are a study in appropriate choices. Geraint Wyn Davies is dramatic, humorous and perfectly typecast in both of his personas. The Godot duo – Tom Rooney & Stephen Ouimette show their range as Angelo & Lucio … completely different characterizations. A bawd(pimp) – Pompey [Will’s blatant referral to the Red light district’s scatological sculptures undamaged by Mt. Vesuvius] is portrayed by an interestingly made up Randy Hughson who plays the part with aplomb. All offer solid interpretations that help make the story easier to follow. Ms. Henry is certainly not subtle in her directing of Brian Tree’s officer Elbow. His Wehrmacht goose-stepping & heil-starting salutes are pure Peter Sellers in ‘Dr. Strangelove’; or writer Franz Liebkind in ‘The Producers’! Old habits are hard to break. Another overt post-war reference – Wyn Davies’ uniform is pure Josip Tito of Spain.
The nubile nun whose virginity is so appealing is played by Carmen Grant. Except for a slight mis-cue, she gives a strong representation of religious belief, and her entreaty on behalf of her brother is worthy of ‘merchant’s’ Portia. Like the opening arias of ‘La Boheme’, her adversary’s response, in this case Hutt’s self-analyzing psychological dichotomy. Each seems to compliment, yet counter, one-another. Great directing; great acting.
As we realize the convoluted plan that Wyn-Davies concocts to balance out his & the other’s situation; this scribe kept thinking of ‘The Sting’; or the plot-lines for the old T.V. series ‘Mission Impossible”. With these thoughts just under the surface, when the denouement takes place; I could imagine the late George Peppard of “The ‘A’-Team” reciting his iconic “Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?”. Almost better than –‘Book him, Dano’! Measure for Measure may have some carnal and erotic references but the strong moral point is so clear that younger viewers will leave with a positive attitude and hopefully – viewpoint. M4M is at the Patterson Theatre until September 21st.