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Measure for Measure

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Measure for Measure has long been considered one of Shakespeare’s problem plays. Though considered a comedy, the moral ambiguities and contradictions in the play have left succeeding generations confounded by the piece. Its mix of religion and licentiousness can be either unsettling or invigorating, depending on your point of view. Especially since Shakespeare, as usual, takes no sides and leaves any moralizing to the audience.

 

Independent Shakespeare Company’s (ISC) decision to produce the play in their outdoor summer festival is a daring one. Shakespeare under-the-stars productions are typically programed from the Bard’s greatest hits.

 

Director Melissa Chalsma doesn’t choose to ease into the production. The audience is called to order by Pompey (Lorenzo Gonzalez) and his drag boss, Mistress Overdone (Xavi Moreno). Overdone is the proprietor of a bawdy house, and both she and Pompey know just how to make an audience feel welcome.

Shakespeare’s Vienna is distinguished by the presence of an extraordinary number of Italian names, along with a similarly relaxed Italian attitude toward sex. Despite, or perhaps, because of these peculiarities, the Duke (David Melville) decides to leave the city and place its governing in the hands of the seemingly incorruptible Angelo (William Elsman).

Angelo immediately starts a campaign to clean up the city. Bawdy houses are pulled down, and Claudio (Evan Lewis Smith), a young man unlucky enough to have impregnated his fiancée before marriage, has been dragged to jail. To Angelo, this is a capital offense, and he intends to make an example of Claudio.

Hearing of her brother’s plight, Isabella (Kalean Ung), a postulant in a convent, visits Angelo to plead for mercy. Angelo is aroused in ways he’s never felt by Isabella’s virginal strength and beauty. He offers to save her brother’s life if she surrenders her maidenhood to him. Isabella is appalled and indignant.

But the moral conundrums do not go unobserved. The “missing” Duke is actually in town, disguised as a friar, and closely monitoring the events. Is this a test of Angelo? A city clean-up plan gone awry? A crazy whim?  Shakespeare doesn’t answer the questions, and Chalsma wisely chooses to leave those answers ambiguous.

Chalsma’s direction is clear, focused, and mines the comedy without sacrificing the dramatic heft of the play. She also chooses not to push the political angle more than the play will bear. With the autocratic hypocrite Angelo in power, it is tempting to twist the play into a contemporary satire. There is a bit of topical political humor, but the production doesn’t diminish Shakespeare by choosing the easy solution and forcing someone into an orange wig.

Melville is a wonderfully eccentric and endearing Duke in the Mark Rylance school of Dukely befuddlement. Ung is impressive as a particularly intelligent Isabella who, despite her manners, can summon enough well-deserved rage to destroy a room. Elsman’s Angelo is effective as the unquestioningly righteous ruler who speedily betrays his beliefs and standards when lust rears its irresistible head.

The rest of the cast is strong and stylish. Particularly notable are Smith’s stalwart Claudio, Gonzalez’s dynamic Pompey, Nikhil Pai’s languidly louche Lucio, and Moreno’s remarkably seamless switch from Overdone’s over-the-top hostess to Barnardine’s bursquely threatening persona.

Even Shakespeare junkies get relatively few chances to see Measure for Measure on stage, and this admirable ISC production offers a great opportunity for both first-timers and veteran Bardophiles.

Old Zoo in Griffith Park     June 1 – 22, 2017    www.iscla.org

 

 

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.