"Style Weekly" Praises "Measure for Measure"
Actors make the most of multiple roles in “Measure for Measure.”
by David Timberline
Richmond Shakespeare Theatre’s practice of “doubling” — having each of its actors play two or three roles in a show — has always led to some interesting juxtapositions. Its current production of “Measure for Measure” may present the most fascinating and artistically rewarding combinations yet.
In this complex consideration of moral gray areas, Andrew Hamm portrays both the strict Duke’s deputy, Angelo, who must crack down on the reprobates of Vienna, and the unfortunate gentleman Claudio, who gets cracked down upon. Both of these characters are fraught with inner conflict, and it’s a tribute to Hamm’s considerable skills that he is able to make each man’s trajectory riveting and distinct. He even throws in for good measure an amusing comic turn as an elderly constable.
Hearing that Claudio has been sentenced to die, his novitiate sister, Isabella, leaves the nunnery to plead for his life. Angelo makes her a devil’s bargain: If she sleeps with him, he’ll free her brother. As Isabella, Liz Blake is convincingly enchanting and proves her acting mettle in the extreme emotional rollercoaster her character must ride.
Spurring the plot into greater complication is Vincentio, the Duke (David White), who disguises himself as a friar to spy on the proceedings. White doesn’t quite do enough to differentiate the Duke from the pimp Pompey, but he salvages his performance in some exceptional final scenes.
In other supporting roles, Julie Phillips makes her biggest impression as the bawdy Mistress Overdone, and while John Moss’ near-farcical take on the opportunistic Lucio sometimes seems to belong in a different play, it’s also consistently hilarious.
As is befitting one of Shakespeare’s “problem” plays, this production has some issues with the mix of comic and melodramatic elements. But the overall effect is a bracing — and gratifying — journey down a murky moral path.
This is my blog, rather than Richmond Shakespeare's, so I can make more personal commentary here without shame.
It's unfortunate that David Timberline and Mary Burruss have to come see such early performances in a show's run (they were both at the Thursday preview) to write a review that doesn't see print for almost two weeks after the fact. It's a bit of a disservice to the company, which loses a full week of media buzz, but it's also not fair to the reviewers, who are often seeing something of a work-in-progress at the beginning of opening weekend. Cases in point: the slippery carpets were a serious distraction for both actors and audience, and Dave White has really found some very specific and delightful differences between the Duke and Pompey in the past two weeks.
Then again, that's part of the wonder of theatre, isn't it? No two shows are alike, shows morph and evolve as they run, and no two audiences have the same experience. Perhaps all theatre reviews should be required to state the date of the performance the reviewer attended so the audience can say, "Hey, that was like two weeks ago. I wonder how the show is different now?"
Measure for Measure continues to be a mountaintop artistic experience for me. This script has gone from being a chore to read in October to possibly my favorite play in all of Shakespeare by January, from being a struggle to connect with to the most rewarding acting work of my life. I will be incredibly sad to see it go.
Honestly, to play those scenes with Liz Blake, I would do this show for free.
Don't tell Grant.