Lily Schweitzer, William Ngong, Jacob Guarino-Snell, Max Jablow, & Noah Bunch in Measure for Measure. Photo by Crystal Ludwick.

Measure for Measure

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Charles Sexton

Review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2018 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Measure for Measure is a comedy, Shakespeare’s last, but as director Charlie Sexton explained in his curtain speech; there is very little levity on display. Yet it is classified as a comedy in part “…because there are several marriages arranged at the end.” And I guess because nobody dies.

But there is much grief and heartache in the story of Duke Vincentio (William Ngong) leaving his Deputy, Angelo (Noah Bunch) in charge while he surreptitiously moves about in the disguise of a priest. Angelo takes a rather fascist stand against sexual freedom and condemns young Claudio (Jackson Guarino-Sanders) to death for getting his girlfriend, Juliet (Ava Middleton) pregnant. When Claudio’s sister Isabella (Frances Rippy) pleads his case to Angelo, he tries to seduce her, promising to release Claudio if Isabella will sleep with him.

Sexton sets the action in a fairly modern society modeled loosely on the Weimar Republic that gave rise to Adolf Hitler. It’s a concept he has visited upon this play before (2006), but here he is less devoted to the period detail because I suspect he sees the seductive call of fascism as alive and well in 2018. The echo of 1933 is still there, particularly in the black military uniforms and print dresses of Laura Patterson’s costume design, but the distancing effect of the period is diluted enough to allow the audience to imagine today’s world just as easily.

He elicits strong work from all of his principal players. As a character, Vincentio is lacking detail and color, but William Ngong lends him such easy authority and establishes an understated physical presence that he uses to subtle comedic effect when he returns to bring justice to bear.

Noah Bunch and Frances Rippy make for a tragic couple, carefully delineating the conflicting emotions of their interactions. Bunch seems driven almost against his better nature so that he avoids the one-note villainy of a less shaded reading of the character. Rippy plays the trauma of her struggle with honesty and self-righteous indignation.

As Lucio, basically a pimp, Max Jablow provides some welcome comic relief with his sleazy take on a man always in service to expediency. Jacob Craigo-Snell was a very fine Escalus, and Lily Rich did well with her brief turn as Mistress Overdone. The rest of the ensemble holds together well.

The Duke stands as a monolith of virtue who is wise enough to tempt corruption out of the shadows, confident in his ability to make things right. Shakespeare understood how self-righteous morality so easily provides a smokescreen for the hypocrisy and corruption that go hand in hand. In 400 years, little of that lesson has been learned.

2018 Young American Shakespeare Festival

Measure for Measure
May 11, 17, 19 @ 7:30, May 13 @ 2:00, May 20 @ 4:00

The Merry Wives of Windsor
May 10, 12, 15 @ 7:30, May 19 @ 2:00, May 20 @ 8:00

Richard III
May 12 @ 2:00, May 13, 16, 18 @ 7:30, May 20 @ 12:30

Nancy Sexton Stage
Commonwealth Theatre Center
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for