Times-Dispatch: "Measure" "Offers Much to Chew On"
A comedy wrestles with morality
Richmond ensemble takes on tangled plot of Shakespeare play
Sunday, Feb 10, 2008 - 12:08 AM Updated: 02:49 AM
By SUSAN HAUBENSTOCK
Richmond Shakespeare's entry in the Acts of Faith Festival, Shakespeare's comedy "Measure for Measure," offers much to chew on in the areas of morals and ethics.
The Duke of Vienna has been lax in applying stringent societal laws; he pretends to head out of town and gets his deputy Angelo, a much tougher enforcer, to take his place while he's gone. Angelo promptly condemns one Claudio to death for fornication -- a crime that has typically gone unpunished by the duke.
Claudio's sister Isabella, a novice nun, begs Angelo to let Claudio off, but deceitful Angelo is willing to do so only if Isabella sleeps with him (with Angelo, that is -- confused yet?). The duke is hanging around Vienna disguised as a friar, and when he learns of Angelo's treachery he devises a plot by which Angelo will be tricked into thinking Isabella has submitted to him. So Angelo has sex with a substitute girl, but he still demands Claudio's death. The execution is faked, the duke reveals the truth and metes out justice, and then he asks Isabella to marry him.
It's fairly complicated, morally as well as plot-wise, and Shakespeare has blended serious matters with comic ones throughout. No one is quite blameless here, though several characters are shameless, or hiding their shame.
In Richmond Shakespeare's production, director James Alexander Bond upholds the company's high standard of spoken verse and pulsing energy as realized by a terrific five-actor ensemble.
Each actor plays at least three roles, and all the characters are well-distinguished. Liz Blake plays Isabella, lovely and innocent, brave and outraged. Andrew Hamm, as Claudio, has a classic scene with her in which he begs her to sacrifice her virginity for his life. He's also perfectly tuned as hypocritical Angelo.
John Moss is amusing and animated as Lucio, Claudio's friend, and Julie Phillips is strong in several smaller roles. David White does a fine job with the role of the duke. It's a lively performance that lends heart to the production.
Thank you to Susan Haubenstock! One of the great things about doing plays with universal lighting is seeing Ms. Haubenstock's mysterious Mona Lisa smile in the audience during a show.
Matinee today at 2:30. Come out and join us!