Measure for Measure remains one of Shakespeare's most troubled and troubling comedies. Thanks to its themes of hypocrisy, lechery, self-righteousness, and thwarted justice, most interpretations get lost in a fog of dark purposes. The good news here is that this touring production from Shakespeare's Globe Theatre of London has miraculously found a way to make this a genuine comedy with a performance that is nothing short of exhilarating. As befits the Globe's intentions, this production, under the direction of John Dove, uses the "original practices" of Elizabethan theatre: an all-male cast, period music and instruments, and resplendent Elizabethan costumes by Jennifer Tiramani. These accoutrements add a lightness to the proceedings, steering the play towards comedic possibilities. The linchpin of this comedy, however, is the performance of Mark Rylance as Duke Vincentio; employing a breathless, dithering, yet jovial style, Rylance finds laughs in lines where there would seem to be none. In this, his last season as artistic director, his slyly clever performance is a fitting finale to all that he has achieved at the Globe during the last eight years.
This complex tale does not find Shakespeare at his most logical or convincing. In Vienna, Duke Vincentio suddenly departs his dukedom, leaving in charge the rigidly moral Angelo (Liam Brennan), who reintroduces a dormant law against sexual licentiousness. When Angelo suddenly falls for the pious Isabella (Edward Hogg), who is pleading for her convicted brother's life, he becomes the biter bitten. And the duke, undercover, returns to observe just how justice is not being done.
The playing of the cross-dressing actors is surprisingly straightforward and never an issue. Hogg's gliding Isabella is earnestly sympathetic and nicely contrasted to Brennan's stolid Scots Angelo. In this Elizabethan setting, the comic characters come into their own: Colin Hurley's extravagant Lucio, John Dougall's cockney Pompey, Roger McKern's double of Froth and Barnadine. And Peter Shorey's Mistress Overdone is overdone indeed, but symbolic of this jolly and clear-eyed production.
Presented by Theatre for a New Audience & Arts at St. Ann's in association with 2Luck Concepts
at St. Ann's Warehouse, 38 Water St., Brooklyn, NYC.
Dec. 20-Jan. 1. Mon.-Fri., 7.30 p.m.; Wed., 2 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m.