Measure for Measure @ Shakespeare Hill

Measure-Measure-Buffalo-NYBy Peter Hall:

THE BASICS:  This dark early comedy by Shakespeare has been lightened up considerably by director Brian Cavanaugh who sets the play in the American Wild West complete with cowboy songs.  This is the second of two Shakespeare in Delaware Park offerings this summer (the first was Hamlet) and it runs Tuesdays through Sundays through August 18th.  The show runs 2 hours and 45 minutes with its single intermission.  No admission is charged but a voluntary collection is taken at intermission.  Food vendors are on site and clean porta-johns (and hand-washing sink!) are available, but outdoor temperatures may drop so bring a blanket or a jacket along with your folding chair.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Corrupt and lawless behavior in 1891 in the border town of Vienna, Texas has gotten completely out of hand.  In order to judge just how bad the situation is, Sheriff Vincentio makes a show of leaving town so that he may return in disguise.  In his absence he promotes the morally upright Angelo who immediately begins to enforce laws which have been ignored for decades.  Angelo closes the saloons and the brothels and then sentences young Claudio to death for fornication.  When Claudio’s devout sister begs forgiveness for her brother, Angelo abuses his power.  The play, suitable for anyone 12 and older, is completely contemporary with issues that still make headlines 410 years after its first performance in 1604.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:   The cast is very well balanced in this production, and even though the role of Angelo is usually given to the strongest actor (and here it’s the only Actor’s Equity member in the cast) Patrick Moltane’s performance is only one of many solid portrayals.  Angelo does require rock solid acting skills because he is the only character to travel a long arc of self-awareness.  The actor must, in the course of the play, transform from a morally rigid bureaucrat with ice water in his veins to a very hot blooded sexual predator and then partly back again to a new position somewhere in between.  As Mariana (Diane Curley), who loves Angelo despite his faults advises: “They say, best men are moulded out of faults, And, for the most, become much more the better, For being a little bad.”

The only other transformation involves the Sheriff, Vincentio (Matt Witten) who toggles back and forth between his character in disguise, a monk with a strong Irish brogue, and his real self (revealed to the audience and a few other characters).   It’s not subtle, but it’s not meant to be, and, for his part, whatever character he is for the moment, he stays in character, which can be tricky, as anyone who’s even tried to tell a dialect joke has discovered.

The only other character who might be transformed during the course of the action is Isabella (Susan Drozd)  the virtuous sister of the soon-to-be-executed Claudio (Bryan Zybala).  The actress is fine; it’s the role that’s the problem, and that role is one of the reasons that this so-called comedy is known as one of Shakespeare’s “Problem Plays.”  Six of Shakespeare’s plays have that designation (including “All’s Well That Ends Well” and “The Merchant of Venice”) either because of morally ambiguous behavior that isn’t completely right or wrong or simply because they are hard to classify as either comedy or tragedy.  I was told in college that “if it ends in a marriage, it’s a comedy and if it ends in a death, it’s a tragedy.  Period.”  Spoiler alert: nobody dies in “Measure for Measure” and the plays ends with at least one, maybe two marriages about to take place.  So this is a comedy.

And everyone on stage does a fine job of character acting and pulling the laughs out of this play.  Escalus (Steve Petersen) dispenses folksy wisdom (not ALL of the dialog is from the bard) such as “don’t squat with your spurs on” while the standard trio of “low” characters  Pompey (Ray Boucher), Froth (Todd Fuller), and Elbow (Geoff Pictor) do a good job of bringing 400 year old bawdy puns to our century.  (One wonders how the comedy of Robin Williams will fare in the year 2414.)  Another broad comic role is that of Lucio (Zak Ward) who plays a sleazy operator and he gets lots of laughs.

Some of the comedy is silent, and kudos go out to Maria Nicole Held and Maura Nolan who each have the double role of “Saloon Gal / Scene Change Goddess” in which they strut downstage holding large signs identifying where the next scene takes place (Saloon, Jail, Town Square, etc.) with appropriate facial expressions and body language, usually rather saucy.

The stage is well decorated, the costumes look authentic, and the incidental music, taken from what seemed like a variety of cowboy movies, sets the mood.  A number of the characters stop the action to sing cowboy songs, and, in general, the men seem to be better singers than the women, but they also wisely have other cast members sing back-up, which covers a multitude of vocal sins.  Unfortunately, the director did not extend this courtesy to the women, so that the first song we hear  – “Rose of San Antone” – belted out by the owner of the brothel, Mistress Overdone (Sheila Connors) strikes a sour note early in the play.  Later, again as a solo, Isabella (Susan Drozd) sings “Don’t Fence Me In” and it isn’t much better.  It would be very easy to add some female supporting voices and perhaps later showings will include this.

The Shakespeare in Delaware Park Mission Statement is printed on the last page of the 32 page program guide (handed out as you arrive by younger actors in costume and in character) and this play certainly lives up to their mission.  For purists, you can always buy a ticket and drive 2-1/2 hours to Stratford, Ontario where “Measure For Measure” is on stage through September 28th (ten days after Shakespeare in Delaware Park closes).  My strong advice is to use this play to introduce young people over the age of 12 to theatre in general and Shakespeare in particular and then, on the way home, try to listen to their reactions.

**Three-Buffalo-505-4

 

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO:  This means trouble.   A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both.  Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS:  Passable, but no great shakes.  Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic.  Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS:  I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater.  If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS:  Both the production and the play are of high caliber.  If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS:  Truly superb–a rare rating.  Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart.  Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

 

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4 comments
JSmith11
JSmith11

On a general note, I absolutely love Shakespeare in Delaware Park - it is probably my favorite part of Buffalo summers - but I wish they would bring in some temporary bike racks or a bike corral. Parking a car can frequently be a real pain and then there's a longish walk involved, and it's so much easier to just ride my bike over with a picnic blanket to sit on down front. But there aren't really any great options for securing the bike except to lock it to a tree, which is never something I enjoy doing.

I hope they'll consider it for future seasons, maybe in partnership with GO Bike Buffalo.

JSmith11
JSmith11

I saw this the other night, and thought it was absolutely charming and delightful, a perfect bit of summery nonsense. The Western setting worked well for me, especially because they altered some dialog rather than just the costumes, and translating the characters into well-known Western stock characters made it very easy to get a grasp on the characters.


I thought the casting was superb, and all of the actors did an excellent job, with a good understanding of what kind of play they were in. They pitched the comedy at just the right level of farce. I enjoyed all of the songs, too, and thought the singing was just fine. You have to keep in mind they are being sung in character, so "Rose of San Antone" is meant to be "belted out" as a saloon ballad.


I've read that the Elizabethan English accent was probably closer to an American accent than to the modern posh Received Pronunciation (which developed in post-colonial times). So hearing Elizabethan dialog with a cowboy accent may actually be closer to the original experience than what we are more accustomed to with Shakespeare performances!

RaChaCha
RaChaCha like.author.displayName 1 Like

I saw this last night, actually, and enjoyed it.  While I don't think the transformation to a western is complete enough to be coherent and convincing, because it's a comedy the dissonance introduces another layer of farce, and so adds to the fun.  I got extra laughs from the anachronisms and cultural dissonance resulting from characters trying to speak theatrical, Elizabethan English in iambic pentameter -- in inconsistent western accents :-)

.

Definitely go see this, prepared for some good fun!

Rand503
Rand503 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Only three buffalos?  I guess it doesn't measure up.

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