Friday, Jun 23, 2017

Measure for Measure (2011)

I had the privilege of seeing Measure for Measure at OSF in 1998 at the Black Swan. Many elements of that production blew me away. I remember being surprised when audience members stood up and joined the play (being actors, not watchers) and the essential moment when the ironically named Angelo lays out his awful choice to the Isabella, sleep with me or your beloved brother will die, literally shocked me.

So it was with anticipatory pleasure that I waited all year for the new production; I was intrigued by the idea of a 70s setting, and Bill Rauch always does good work. This is a difficult play for modern audiences – the choice between the chastity required by one’s religion and the life of a brother doesn’t seem like a difficult one; but I trusted OSF to make me feel it, once again.

Sadly, this production did not wow me.

It opens beautifully, with three women cleaning a board room, singing softly. When they pull out guitars from the refuse cart and transform into mariachis, I smiled with happiness and settled in for another fascinating take on Shakespeare’s timeless scenarios. A few things felt a bit gimmicky – elegant Cristofer Jean’s transvestite Mistress Overdone was just on the edge, but several audience members were completely fooled by his transformation. And I particularly did not like the scene when the friar (Anthony Heald) and Isabella smoke cigarettes together and plan for the “greater good”; I felt it diminished her purity, which perhaps was the point. While I’m talking about the things I didn’t like, Stephanie Beatriz’s performance was stiff and awkward. I felt like I was watching a new actress, a tween even, and she never found her rhythm.

However, Kenajuan Bentley’s Lucio was prime excellence, a jive-talking stud who *owned* his part. Ramiz Monsef’s Pompey was smoothly snarky, hitting the comedic notes like a jazz musician. Rene Milan’s Angelo is tightly-wrapped passion and oily evil. I loved the 70’s counterculture, urban vibe, and the set design by Clint Ramos was excellent.

All in all, I’m glad I saw this play, but it doesn’t come close to the power of the earlier version that lives within my memory.

~review by Lisa Mc Sherry for Ashland Link