MEASURE FOR MEASURE
by William Shakespeare
Nouveau 47 Theatre
Directed by Tom Parr IV
Assistant Director - Diana Gonzalez
Set and Lighting Design - Tom Parr IV
Costumes - Samantha Rodriguez
Sound Design and Music - Kim Kuenzer
Properties - Donny Covington
Stage Manager - Amy Pen
Abhorson/Ensemble - Daniel Roberts
Angelo - Justin Locklear
Mistress Overdone - Ben Bryant
Claudio - Austin Tindle
Elbow/Froth - Erik Archilla
Escalus - Dennis Raveneau
Juliet/Ensemble - Didi Archilla
Friar Thomas/Ensemble - Blake Montgomery
Pompey/Friar Peter - Clay Wheeler
Isabella - Danielle Pickard
Lucio - Ryan Martin
Mariana - Hilary Couch
Provost - Brian Witkowicz
Vincentio, the Duke - Jonathan Taylor
Francisca/Bernardine - Stephanie Spaulding
Reviewed Performance 2/16/2011
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Nouveau 47, one of Dallas' newest theatres, has chosen Shakespeare's Measure for Measure as the premiere production of their first season. A play seldom produced, its relevancy can be witnessed on all TV news channels and its subject matter debated by both political sides ad nauseam. Religion, sexual morality, ethics, violence are hot topics in which we never seem to tire. The latest political or religious scandal sends us rushing to the nearest boob tube or favorite blog site. For gossip devotees in the early 1600's, the daily theatre trek sated their curiosity and Shakespeare became a pre-cursor of sorts to today's Fox News.
Measure for Measure was labeled a comedy, which confused some, with its overt darkness. It was no doubt a comedy as, in 1604, much less today, the attempt to outlaw fornication and/or enforce its prohibition was truly comical. Each time I read anything on Measure for Measure, the phrase "problem play" was mentioned. It's not the subject matter but the amount of tiny, unnecessary scenes that was the problem. Some of the subplots didn't support the main idea and seemed nothing more than filler.
The Duke, as lord of the city, left and came back disguised as a friar to spy on power-hungry Angelo, who now left to rule the city and was eager to climb the legal ladder. Angelo brought down his gavel on young nobleman, Claudio, for having illegally slept with his wife without the proper, and expensive, papers to prove their marriage. Claudio called on his sister, Isabella, to speak on his behalf but Angelo refused his freedom.
Desires arose within Angelo for Isabella and he made a deal for her virginity. With the friar/Duke's assistance, the oft-used "bed trick" was played, the Duke "returned", the oh so righteous lord was scandalized, lives were spared, subplots finalized and the just and unjust got their due. The usual happy ending, in this case, was more silence than smiles, and left the audience to their own interpretation.
Further emphasizing the blurring of good/evil, right and wrong, Director Tom Parr IV chose the world of Bedlam to enclose Measure for Measure. From the press notes, it was described as "a world of misfits, lunatics and madmen, and the officials who must attempt to control them." The set, designed by Parr, alluded to an enclosure for the insane. The low-ceiling small black box theatre space housed another large box, or cage, plopped right in the middle. A curtained back wall was also an entrance or exit, some vertical poles on two sides defined the box and, though there was only a small half sheet of real cage wire (with a tiny lower door), the feeling of entrapment was perceived. Assorted boxes, benches and hanging fabric on both sides of the box/cage staged the smaller scenes and subplots.
Parr's lighting design was appropriate and about as stark as possible. Six small instruments hung from the poles to illuminate only the box. Three back spots, behind the audience's heads, lit the front and sides scenes. Costumes, designed by Samantha Rodriquez, nicely delineated the social classes of England's 1600's. Clothing ranged from the thin, torn and dirty garments of the poor and imprisoned to trendy fops in high wigs and waistcoats, though also frayed and disheveled from their time in Bedlam. Isabella's dress was a simple black and white frock with petticoats and only the rosary at her waist to indicate she was from the nunnery. Friars wore traditional hooded robes and the elite officials were clad in puritanically conservative black coats and knee breeches. The sounds of classical string quartets and violin solos, designed by Jim Kuenzer, waltzed between the scenes.
When I read that the play's setting was in Bedlam, I excitedly envisioned the complete overtaking of the lunatics, a la Marat/Sade, where everyone, not just a few, were in the asylum. A world where no one, not the audience nor the characters, would be able to tell who was out . . . and who was in. In the director's notes, he spoke of "the line drawn where madness prevails" and "who is really running the asylum" so we both had the same inclination. While there were obvious "residents of the insane", there wasn't as much of a blur between the worlds as there could have been and I achingly wished the direction had gone further on and right off that edge of insanity.
Parr economically paired smaller roles together but still left characters that were superfluous to the story. It was as if Shakespeare promised several of his friends a role in his next play. Of the main characters, the actors portraying them provided some clarity to both their roles and to the plot. Clay Wheeler and Ryan Martin, as Pompey and Lucio, pranced through Bedlam as the pale-faced and rouged, white-wigged fops. Their characters were town gossip mongers, expanding each incident with falsehoods and accusations in order to stay vogue in a society gone mad. (On a side note, Lucio was the only character who used the small lower "doggy door" in the cage, exiting backwards. Maybe, though now a fallen lord, he was still adhering to the rules of the court, where one never turned their back to the higher official. . . . or else he was simply nuts!). Isabella, the play's heroine, was the virtuous woman forced to choose between her own piety and her brother's life. Danielle Pickard played Isabella more as a lady of the court than novice nun. There was grandness to her character that did not suit someone of her devotion. Both Pickard and Hilary Couch, as Angelo's former fianc? Mariana, perfected the art of the pleading wail. It's not easily accomplished, usually falling prey to sobbing incoherence.
Claudio, Isabella's condemned brother, was conflicted between staying true to the morals of his noble birth and handing over the condemnation to his sister, whose soul would be lost along with her virginity.
Austin Tindle craftily played both sides of Claudio. First, he was the upstanding gentleman, wanting justice but resigned to his fate, and then he easily debased himself, putting his sister in harm's way, as his execution drew closer. The one voice of reason came from Escalus, as another lord and city official. Dennis Raveneau made that reason worth listening to with his rich, smooth voice and peaceful demeanor.
Justin Locklear's villain Angelo was the epitome of smarthy righteousness. His dress, his stance, his vocal quality were correct to the office. Even when his desires for Isabella rose, Locklear chose to keep the emotions reined in, letting the words allude to his excitement but keeping his face and body subdued. By being quietly conniving, he was all the more disgusting.
Jonathan Taylor played the pivotal role of the Duke Vincentio. When disguised as a friar, he was the catalyst for all the plot twists and trickery in Measure for Measure. Essentially having two roles, I wanted more delineation between then, even though it was the same character. Taylor chose a quiet vocal level and slow rhythm for the friar but it continued on for the Duke. The speed was too slow and choppy set against the speed of every other actor and it slowed the action taking place. However, Taylor received the biggest laugh of the evening, started by Isabella's silence to his proposal and his response to it ? great timing.
I was glad to have seen Measure for Measure. It's not a great play but well played by Nouveau 47's ensemble. It's a worthy start to the season with some very worthy performances. Fair Park is well-lit and lovely right now and it's a good time to welcome this new company to our ever-expanding theatre community.
Measure for Measure
The Magnolia Lounge at Fair Park
1121 First Avenue, Dallas, TX 75210
Plays through February 27th
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm.
**Special Industry Night performance Monday, February 21st at 8 pm.
Tickets are general admission and priced $15 - $20 and $10 on Special Industry Night. $15 for students with valid student id.
For tickets and information, call 214-614-8208 or go to www.Nouveau47.com