Well heaven forgive him and forgive us all
Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.
--Escalus, Measure for Measure
Oberon Theatre Ensemble's production of Measure for Measure was an energetic and subversively funny production of Shakespeare's dark comedy. By far its best feature was its supporting cast (Karen Sternberg, Philip Emeott, Jarel Davidow, and Brad Fryman), who played up the comic relief to the hilt.
Measure for Measure is a dark comedy of sorts, based on manipulation and Shakespeare's ubiquitous mistaken identities. Though it has some extremely funny moments, it can't be classed as a true comedy. It's not a classic love story, history, tragedy, or comedy; it is its own genre. The play explores issues of power and authority and ambition, and what would be known today as sexual harassment. It's complexly woven, with several competing characters and subplots, then it all unravels in the strangely disquieting ending.
Duke Vincentio abdicates power to Angelo, who immediately begins enforcing archaic and draconian laws. Claudio is arrested for impregnating his fiancée and is sentenced to be executed. His sister Isabella, about to enter a convent, pleads with Angelo for her brother's life. Angelo agrees to spare him, but only if Isabella sleeps with him. She must decide whether her brother's life is more important than her virtue, but meanwhile, the Duke is enacting a plan to give Angelo a taste of his own medicine.
The male comedy trio (Philip Emeott as Pompey, Brad Fryman as Elbow, and Jarel Davidow as Lucio) represented Vienna's underclass, and as such, were unabashed and uninhibited. They stole each of their scenes, turning the production into a near-triumph of comedic timing and broad physical hyperbole. The Duke (Gordon Stanley) and Angelo (Walter Brandes) were the strongest "straight" actors; Stanley, as the Duke, provided a much-needed serious counterweight to the antics of the trio. Brandes, as Angelo, was toadying and egotistical, and rightly so, although it was hard to find a human element to his characterization.
The female characters were less successful than their male counterparts. Part of that is due to Shakespeare's writing; his female characters were never as well-written as the males. Part of the problem here was the acting. Jessica Burr, as Isabella, was perhaps the least convincing element of the production. She was alternately stiff and shrill, neither the shrinking-violet virgin nor the virtuous spitfire she could be. Actress Overdone (Karen Sternberg), the local prostitute, was in fact more convincing (if a little, well, overdone) as a whore than Jessica Burr was as a pious young woman about to enter a convent.
The production itself allowed the acting to take center stage. In pseudo-modern dress (costumes by Allison Lepelletier), on an almost completely bare stage, the tiny space was both literally and metaphorically filled with energy. Nick Moore's excellent sound design was evocative and haunting, and assumed an almost physical presence in the otherwise stark production. Director Eric Parness made excellent use of the small space, and kept the play moving at a fast clip.
Overall, this was a spirited production. The cast as a whole had great ensemble energy, and the minor characters were a delight. Too often, Shakespeare is a long, tedious affair, but this production sizzled at times.
Also with Jordan Meadows, Ian Pfister, Gordon Stanley, Christine Verleny, and James T. Ware.
Lighting: 1/Sound: 2
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Copyright 2005 Jenny Sandman