Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Measure for Measure"

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note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Larry Stark

"Measure for Measure"

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Robert Walsh

Incidental Music by Winston Braman & Cameron Willard
Set And Lighting Designed by Mark O'Maley
Costume Coordinators Sarah Newhouse & Bobbie Steinbach
Assistant Stage Manager Brittainy Roberts
Stage Manager Adele Nadine Traub

Duke Vincentio.....................Allyn Burrows
Isabella...........................Paula Langton
Angelo/Barnadine...................Ken Cheeseman
Escalus/Abhorson..................David Gullette
Friar Peter/Pompey.............Michael F. Walker
Lucio/Froth...........................John Kuntz
Mistress Overdone/Provost/Francisca...Paula Plum
Claudio/Elbow......................Doug Lockwood
Juliet/Mariana.................Jennifer La Fleur
Kelly Cook, Eric Gould, Carly Helsaple, Gail Markowitch, Maureen Regan

For The Mirror, when writing a new review I take the last review I wrote and change everything, blotting out the words I wrote about the old show to make way for the new. And quite by chance this review of "Measure for Measure" by The Actors' Shakespeare Project --- with seven Equity actors (in the cast of nine) each with bio's and reputations long as your arm --- now upstages one of The 11:11 Theatre Company's "Our Hearts as Fiction" that had only seven young people new to Boston. And yet the fire, the clarity, the concentration, and the generosity to make everyone else on stage shine bubbled out of both these different shows. It was as though Ben Evett started A.S.P. to let these experienced actors become young again, with that "Hey gang, let's turn that old church into a Theatre!" eagerness to make something new. Oh, what a great year to be alive in Boston and watch theatres being born!

As for the new production: "Measure for Measure is housed in what must be a "de-frocked church" --- The Jorge Hernandez Cultural Center --- with ornate curving balconies and a sweeping staircase that actors use for both scenes as well as entrances. There are rows on the stage for audience, but the main action is on a raised square platform three-quarters surrounded by tables. Actors scurry and scamper through all of a half-dozen or more exits, often through the crowd. Mark O'Maley designed the set (which consists of one square desk and two chairs (one with arms),total --- and his light-plot picks up actors all over the space, and even follows them closely down those long, curving stairs. The program Says this is "Vienna, Now" and there are business-suits (Coordinated by Sarah Newhouse & Bobbie Steinbach), and occasional papparazzi and a t-v camera appear, but they are distracting frills to a clear-eyed people-anchored reading of Shakespeare's hot-blooded Italians suddenly confronted by a law that closes bordellos and demands a man's head be chopped off for sleeping with his fiancee before their marriage. And it is so well acted it's hard to see that Director Robert Walsh had to do anything more than tell them where to stand while they ... Are ... whoever they play.

And in this production each actor plays many parts --- well, two, at least. And part of the joy of the show is the surprise when one actor re-appears so uniquely wearing a whole new persona with the new clothes. Since only two in the cast (Duke Vincentio and Isabella) do not double, there's a lot of quick-changing going on off-stage. There is also an added bonus for the experienced Boston theatre-goer who can watch star players take support-roles. I single out Paula Plum in a policeman's uniform as the Provost after her turn as Mistress Overdone --- not merely because her expert work does Not stand out (none of the supports should, or do), but because her face, while others take their moments center-stage, so eloquently and silently cheers her fellows on.

The central story involves Ken Cheeseman's Angelo, ruling in the Duke's absence, harshly enforcing a rarely enforced death sentence for fornication, then offering the offender's virgin sister her brother's freedom if she will break that same law with Angelo himself! And when Doug Lockwood as brother Claudio fears death enough to ask her to pay that price, it puts Paula Langton's Isabella into a moral pickle.

Fortunately, Duke Vincentio is not off in Poland, he's observing everything disguised as a friar, and manipulating everything to let truth free the innocent and shackle the guilty --- comedies after all end in marriages, do they not? The friar/duke of Allyn Burrows here is so believably omniscient and omnipotent as to seem God incarnate as he re-weaves the strands of social fabric for the common good of all --- a god so participating in life as to end up confessing himself as much in love as any of his subjects!

Paula Langton starts the play an eagerly devout novitiate awaiting vows of silence, and when flung into the seething moral realities of life she is literally torn apart by them. At one point, believing her brother beheaded, she is wracked by thoughts of mourning and of vengeance in forcefully phyical sentence after sentenc --- and it is her dawning smile that ends this lovely play.

It's Ken Cheeseman has the difficult job of making Angelo's upholding then flaunting this law against sex outside marriage seem humanly understandable. He first calls himself the impersonal instrument of law, but the power both to kill and to seduce when none may believe him corrupt is too much a temptation. Yes, he wrestles with conscience, but conscience doesn't win. He is lucky the devious Duke's on duty still to tip the balance in this tragi-comedy!

The comic sub-plot involves two rogues --- Michael F. Walker as an unrepentent pimp (Pompey) and John Kuntz as Lucio, a swaggering braggart --- who sell sex, sans love Or marriage, and are over-eager to slander even the Duke or his holy alter-ego for a little street-smart notariety.

But enough. To name outstanding performances would be but to read out the cast-list --- and read it twice, too, for each actor here wears many clothes. Instead let me end commending Cameron Willard's electric guitar and Winson Braman's electric bass which --- in addition to drum-machines and other sounds composed and co-ordinated by Willard --- filled the cavernous church with loud yet satisfying sound whenever the actors were not at work.

And I will add one note: it seems to me that Wilm Shaxpy --- who never could spell his own name twice the same --- must have thought he wrote "Venice" when "Vienna" got stuck onto his manuscript. But company-members Sarah Newhouse and Bobbie Steinbach as costume overseers have given strumpet-stockings and off-shoulder necklines enough to these hot-blooded "Austrians" to correct over three hundred years of mis-spelling! And so I say again these words from my last review:

I like this company.
I like this playwright.
I like this play.


"Measure for Measure" (16 March - 10 April)
The Jorge Hernandez Cultural Center, 85 West Newton Street, BOSTON MA
Tickets 1(866)811-4111

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide