Stephanie Machado and Matt Dallal. Photo by Jonathan Roberts
Measure for Measure
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld
in association with The Fiasco Theatre Company
A review by Jason Roseberry
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Jason Roseberry. All rights reserved.
Measure for Measure has long been considered one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” because it doesn’t clearly fall into the constructs of his comedies or tragedies. While the play has many of the comedic elements that Shakespeare is known for (mistaken identities, eccentric side characters, and witty repartee), it tackles more complex issues such as the abuse of power for sexual purposes, moral dilemmas, and the difficulty of exposing leaders who grossly misuse their power – an eerie (and – in this case – sad) example of how Shakespeare’s plays still remain so relevant today.
At the beginning of Measure for Measure, the citizens of Vienna have embraced a litany of vices, and Lord Angelo (Paul L. Coffey) has decided to take a stand while the Duke (Devin E. Haqq) is away. When Lord Angelo begins strictly enforcing the immorality laws alongside his second in command Escalus (Jessica Wortham), a citizen, Claudio (Matt Dallal) is caught in the crosshairs. Claudio’s fiancée, Juliet, is pregnant, and he is tried and sentenced to death for this moral transgression. His friend, Lucio (Paco Tolson) seeks out Claudio’s sister, Isabella (Stephanie Machado), who is about to take her vows as a nun. Isabella pleads with Angelo to reverse the decision. He offers to drop the charges if Isabella agrees to sleep with him. Isabella is left with a moral quandary – save her brother or give up her very soul.
Derek McClane’s scenic design is a wonder. The set is basically six distinct doors designed to represent different locations in the city. The actors spin and maneuver the doors in order to quickly identify a change of location, passage of time or even a peek into the emotional state of a character.
Speaking of transitions, the mood of the entire production is masterfully set by directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld. From the pre-show instructions to mingling with the audience at intermission, the actors have specific moments where they not only break the fourth wall but interact with us as themselves. This choice serves to keep us from getting too emotionally involved with the dramatic moments in the play – in a good way. Part of the “problem” with Measure for Measure is the emotional arc that Shakespeare asks us to ride. It is a stretch for any audience. The plot moves quickly from humor to emotional moments that have only become rawer to audiences over the past 400 years. Keeping us grounded in reality allows Shakespeare’s powerful and timely dialogue to come through without getting us bogged down in the “drama.” The Fiasco Theatre Company makes sure to give these moments their due, but, ultimately, they want to be able to stick the landing.
There are only six cast members in this production, and all (except Haqq) play more than one character. There isn’t a finer ensemble of actors working right now in any production in our area. Machado, an excellent Isabella, leads the way by creating a character who is sympathetic, yet strong as she fights for justice. Haqq’s Duke is appropriately dashing, charming, and powerful as he masterfully brings the hypocrisy to the light. Wortham and Dallal also have fine moments throughout the production, but, for me, it is Tolson and Coffey who shine with their subtle and sudden shift from character to character. Tolson has the fortune of delivering the funniest lines, but his fully-realized Lucio takes off way past the folio. Coffey has the task of playing a character who seems to have written the book when it comes to lechery, but he never lets us off the hook by turning Angelo into an “arch-villain.” His Angelo is realistic, motivated, and all the more deeply flawed as a result.
If you are a fan of Shakespeare, then you don’t want to miss this clever and creative production of Measure for Measure. If not…well, then this play isn’t likely to make you a fan of the Bard. I would dare say this is the best production of Measure for Measure you will have the chance to see, but there’s a reason this play never found its way into Will’s Greatest Hits. However, hats off to Fiasco Theatre Company for their glorious attempt at solving this problem play, and to Actors Theatre of Louisville for giving us the chance to see it.
Measure for Measure
October 9 – 27, 2019
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Dr. Jason Roseberry is the Artistic Director of TheatreWorks of Southern Indiana, an alumnus of the Actors Theatre of Louisville Acting Apprentice program, and a past director at Silver Creek High School. Jason is also a playwright and lyricist. Some of his produced plays and musicals include: “Burke and Hare”, and “E.A. Poe, Into the Mind of Madness” both at (Edinburgh, Scotland Fringe Festival),”The Red Room” Off-Broadway, Louisville Repertory Company, (Humana Festival/Heideman Award Finalist), “The Invisible Man” (Actor’s Theatre of Louisville), “Finders Keepers” (OOB-Expanded Arts, Kitchen Sink Festival Winner), “Freshman Year” (Ball State University), and “Romeo & Rosaline” (SCHS, Indiana Thespian Festival). Jason is currently the Chief Innovation Officer for Five-Star Technology Solutions, an educational technology company.