Crime is out of control, prostitutes, drug pushers and beggars are everywhere. Cracking down, the mayor turns loose his hard-line police commissioner loose to get tough on crime. New York City, Guiliani 1997? No, Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, 1607.
This first production of the Character Actors Theatre, conceived by Victor Bell, the CAT's Producing artistic director, and directed by Jay Stern, was a most enjoyable, updated version of this minor Shakespeare work, set in the Big Apple today. It worked surprisingly well, although, like so much Shaespeare, it would have benefited from some cutting and pruning of the unnecessarily exhaustive and exhausting plot complications.
In this version, far too convoluted to fully explain, Mayor Duke Vincentio leaves town for an unknown destination and hands over power to his police commissioner, Angelo. He immediately becomes a dictator, sentencing a protester to be beheaded for sleeping with his fiance. The accused's sister pleads for her brother's life, which the commish says he'll save provided Sis has sex with him. The mayor, disguised as a prison chaplain, overhears all this and returns to expose the commish, and all live happily ever after.
Director Stern, for the most part, made good use of the black box and moved his very large cast and the show along smartly and amusingly with radio announcements (the trial of a Jewish money-lender, one Shylock, is announced, for example), assorted paparazzi, TV cameras and commentators, and protesters.
As the mayor and undercover prison chaplain, the short, stocky Victor Bell was convincingly Fiorellolike. Nanette Deasy as Isabella started tentatively but built in strength throughout. The reliable Karen Lynn Gorney was an unflappable deputy mayor. John C. Hansen's uptight, oily, villainous commish was splendid, though his very well-spoken lines sounded more Stratford than Gotham. Clyde Baldo was appropriately sleazy as the obnoxious TV reporter, Lucio. Derek Lively scored as the condemned man, Claudio. Ken D. Elston was a sympathetic warden. And, finally, Andy Uhlenhopp, as the drug-pusher and thief, Pompey, almost stole the show, with his enjoyably over-the top villain. Also featuring: Joseph O'Brien, Dori May Kelly, Hugh Kinsey Long III, K. Lorrel Manning, Simone Kowitz, Lanette Ware, Caise C. Rode, John Morrison, Judith Conly, Eugene Cordero IV, Sylvia Jeffries, Randall Martin, Sam Prince, John Puddington, Mimi Stern, and Elizabeth Shull.
A nice, flexible set (Peter R. Feuchtwanger), fine costumes
(Dierdre Donahue), appropriate lighting (Elizabeth
Gaines), and very good sound and music (Jonathan Cousins).
Great fun and an excellent start CAT!
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Copyright 1997 Dudley Stone