I loved Measure for Measure with Shakespeare Bash’d. It was both hilarious and uncomfortable to watch. I say that because sometimes it was so incredibly funny and other times it struck so deeply at the awful parts of what is feels like to be a female that it made me uncomfortable. If I had to sum it up, it felt like watching women express what they need from others and then continuously watching those needs be completely ignored by those around them. And that just made me sad.
I really applaud the company of actors because the ensemble was strong and this is a difficult play. It’s a play with a lot of text. There is a lot of talking in this play which could really drag it out if the performances weren’t stellar. And the times when it did feel like it was dragging was mainly because I just really wanted a resolution and felt terrible for Isabella (played by Sochi Fried). I also should applaud Catherine Rainville who directed the show because her smart, action-packed blocking assisted in making the show fly. It was some magnificent acting across the board but Isabella and Angelo, played by Geoffrey Armour, blew my mind a little.
I’ll get into that but first I should say that I barely knew Measure for Measure going into this production. I’ve never read it. I’ve never seen it. The closest I come to an understanding of this play was almost deciding to splurge buy tickets to Groundling Theatre’s production last year and then deciding it was too expensive to do both Measure for Measure and Winter’s Tale. But the basics I knew was that Isabella’s brother Claudio (played by Jeff Yung) is sentenced to death and Isabella appeals to Angelo who is in charge after the Duke (played by David Ross) leaves office and goes into hiding. Angelo is attracted to Isabella and states he will only save her brother should she give up her virginity and sleep with him.
I’m flashing to that moment specifically because the scene in which Angelo tells Isabella she can save her brother but only if she sacrifices every part of herself to do so was so incredibly well acted that I felt stunned watching it (and I even knew what was coming!).
One of the signs of a truly amazing acting moment is when the actors can make you believe these thoughts and words are happening for the first time. It was as though this moment had never occurred before now. And when Isabella expresses she would out Angelo for his immoral actions, he screams at her and asks who would ever believe her? Who would believe her over him? I think it is obvious what makes this feel so contemporary. I’ll also add I think a lot of women are put in a position where they can get what they want – but only if they sacrifice part of themselves to achieve it. The entire scene was shattering to watch.
Armour who played Angelo had a hard job as the villain. I mean, his character sucks. But he didn’t shy away from the horribleness of it all. And Fried as Isabella handled every scene with elegance and deep emotion. It was flawless acting on both their parts.
And now I’m going to flash forward to the end because I found it equally heartbreaking and I am quite honestly still reeling from this show as I scarf down fuzzy peaches while writing this. My biggest problem in the play was the moment with Mariana, the scorned ex-fiancé of Angelo played by the amazing Melanie Leon, gets brought out in the big takedown scene of Angelo as he is outed for being a terrible person. The Duke makes Angelo finally marry Mariana and then immediately sentences him to death. Mariana is devastated and begs Isabella to have mercy and save Angelo. Okay. Here’s my problem. I hate this scene. It has nothing to do with the acting but I just really have a hard time swallowing that a woman who was mistreated for years would so readily accept this man back and then fight for his life. (But I mean, yes this happens in real life too). However, I did like the fate of Angelo’s life ultimately belongs in the hands of two women who he has wronged. My inner voice is telling me that with Shakespeare comes the good and the bad but inner me (again) is shouting there must be another way to make me understand this character.
The other small tidbit of knowledge I brought into this play going in was I knew the Duke proposed to Isabella at the end and she is not given any lines to respond. A classic Shakespeare dilemma where you just must answer the question with directing. And I loved how Rainville dealt with this problem. The Duke proposes and in the end Isabella just looks at him with such disappointment. Even the quote unquote nice guy of the play – ignoring the fact him leaving initiated all the problems to begin with – still completely misses the point of the whole story. The Duke decides he wants to marry Isabella and just omits her own wants and desires from the equation because it benefits him. Isabella doesn’t answer the Duke. That is the answer. Even when we feel like the work is done, it isn’t. We just keep moving on.
I’m going to do a slight diversion and talk about the set decoration in the room. The show was at the Junction City Music Hall in the basement. The room was decorated with flowers and fairy lights and a large backdrop lit up that featured cut outs of flowers. It was beautiful. The entire room was cozy and homey, which is somewhat ironic to how this play made me feel. I really have no idea why the choice was made to decorate the room like this but I did like the juxtaposition between this horrible, uncomfortable plotline and this beautiful, flowery room. Maybe something to do with flowers and virginity? I have no clue. I’m still working through this one but it did look very nice and it gave me something to think about which I enjoy.
Finally, as I wrap this up, I really feel like I can’t finish up without giving a shout-out to how truly funny this play was. Lesley Robertson may be one of the funniest people on the planet and was totally matched by Michael Man. What I like about Man from seeing him in the Chekhov Collective’ Midsummer and this show is that he delivers his lines like a contemporary comedian. It feels like he is speaking to today’s audience which I looooove. I also happened to attend on the night that Cara Pantalone was without a voice which meant James Wallis and Julia Nish-Lapidus stepped into her roles. They seriously must have memorized the lines in less than 24 hours which is incredible. It was also totally worth it to see James as the executioner.
Overall, this was a great show and it gave me a lot to think about. I’ve seen a decent amount of Bash’d productions and they have all been great but this one really took it up a notch for me. This is a political play and it would be easy for it to fall into beating you over the head with the similarities between Measure for Measure and the #MeToo movement. But the direction was smart and subtle and brought out some incredible performances so I’m very glad to have this production as my first Measure for Measure.