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LA Theater Review

Measure 4 Measure

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Shakespeare's Measure for Measure has often been classified, with good reason, as a "problem play." Its jangled morality plants rigid, fanatical Puritanism—in this fictional version of Vienna, fornication is punishable by death—alongside extreme libertinism, represented by the bawdy Mistress Overdone (played as a campy drag queen by Nic Few). The two supposed reformers, Angelo (Stephen J. Lattanzi) and the Duke (Adrian Rieder) are morally compromised: Angelo is a hypocrite who seeks to blackmail the nun Isabella (Sarah Yahr Tucker) into having sex with him, while the Duke, presented as a good-guy authority figure, is a meddler who tortures Isabella by allowing her to believe falsely that her brother has been beheaded. The piece demands a sure directorial hand just to make sense, and the gnarly language requires actors with great verbal clarity to be comprehensible. In this cast, Rieder is the only one with the requisite skills.

This production, directed by Andrea Pandazedes and Rich Wong, adds further problems by attempting to impose a message of homosexual tolerance on the play: The program is emblazoned in many typefaces with the slogan "Join the fight." There's lots of same-sex hugging and handholding, further muddling the story line. As the vile seducer Angelo, Lattanzi's performance is so low-key and internalized that there's scant evidence of his supposed lust for Isabella, and the directors have done little to articulate their scenes together, which should be the emotional center of the play. The two just stand in place, gabbling away at each other, to little purpose.

Furthermore, the costumes are Melrose Avenue contemporary. Religious habits are dispensed with—and thereby the religious content. To see Angelo attempting to seduce a nun is innately shocking. To see him half-heartedly pursuing a pert young lady in a double-belted pantsuit, whose convent resembles a modern-dance troupe, is merely confusing. And the Duke's disguise as a holy friar becomes laughably transparent if he's clad in a sport-jacket with pushed-up sleeves.

In short, the actors are game, but the production is a mess.

Presented by and at Write Act Repertory Theatre, 6128 Yucca Ave., Hollywood.
April 16–May 23. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.
(323) 469-3111
or www.writeactrep.org.

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