Measure for Measure is the first of the Monroe County Civic Theatre’s Shakepeare plays in the park this summer. The complicated comedy, directed by Amanda Renee Baker, flows well in a varied and briskly paced production. In a night that offers music as well as drama, there’s even a thought provoking overture for chamber orchestra by Matt Van Bink.
In Measure for Measure strict law comes to Vienna as Angelo, a deputy, has been left in charge while the reigning Duke feigns taking a vacation. The lusty young Claudio is sentenced to death for premarital sex by the stiffly virtuous Angelo. Claudio’s sister, the stiffly virtuous Isabella, pleads his case so eloquently that she tempts judge Angelo. In a nice bit of unbending, Angelo pledges to spare Claudio if Isabella will bend to his newly discovered ardor. As in many of the period’s comedies, the playwright’s problem and the audience’s fun is to see how this is all going to be worked out and end in a nice round of marriages.
There are outstanding and richly textured performances by Mike Price as Duke Vincentio, Chelsea Rohweder as the much put upon Isabella and Justin Robertson as the scapegrace Lucio. Frank Buczolich was an audience favorite as the flea bitten prisoner Barnardine. Angie Hickman was pert as Mistress Overdone
Over the year’s audiences and critics has been troubled by Measure for Measure . The characters are too complex, too developed, too real if you will. The real pain that we feel in the struggle of Isabella and the anger that we feel at the Duke’s plottings are not equaled by the neatly mounted stock ending. The Monroe County Civic’s director, Amanda Renee Baker, recognizes the problem and she has a couple of approaches that if anything intensify the conflict and a final moment that both recognizes the play’s failure and rescues it.
Baker has chosen to make her sympathetic figures in the justice system women. Jamie Acres as the aged counselor Escalus is deeply sympathetic to the power of lust and the virtues of mercy.. In her other court dealings, she acts as almost a family counselor might moving individually to the various complainants and working things out rather than ruling from the bench. The jailer, the Provost, Kaira Hogle has a less active role, but her sympathy with the cause of the actions and care for the various prisoners works well.
These elements are neatly worked in, but it is the final moment where Baker strikes home and turns the whole play around. The Duke is resolving everything in a neat fashion. Marriages are both the rewards and the punishments for the various characters. It’s a cure for premarital sex, breaking of marriage vows, vicious scandal mongering and depraved misuse of authority. In the final moment, the Duke is to wrap everything up by taking Isabella’s hand in marriage. But this Isabella, at first apparently deferent as she takes off the habit of the novice nun that she had aspired to, flings it down and proudly walks out on the Duke, the assembled couples and the happy ending.
The Monroe County Civic Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure plays this Friday and Saturday at eight in Third Street Park.