Bare Theatre, which is known for its exciting adaptations of William Shakespeare’s work, sets Measure for Measure in the 1920s, and performs its modern-dress production — replete with jazz music and flapper costumes — in Chapel Hill’s Varsity Theatre on Franklin Street, a movie theater in a building built in 1927.
Measure for Measure, which Bare Theatre is presenting as part of the “Wherefore: Shakespeare in Raleigh” series, has been called one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays,” because it deals with serious moral questions without seeming to solve them. Moreover, wickedness is ultimately forgiven; and the vows of a novitiate nun are cast aside for one reason after being held dearly for another. For all the underlying complexities, the plot flows relatively easily, although the ending must be resolved in the mind of the audience.
Duke Vincentio, a kind and benevolent leader, finds moral turpitude in his city and turns his power over to Angelo, his second in command, a strident ruler, to determine if he can return the city to righteousness. Caught up in the change are Claudio, who has (horror of horrors!) impregnated his fiancée, Juliet, before marriage and is subject to Draconian consequences; and his sister, Isabella, the novitiate, whom Angelo attempts to compromise; as well as Mariana, a woman whom Angelo has wronged in the past.
Matt Schedler can’t always be heard, but his actions and kindly demeanor fill in for him; and he presents us with a Duke Vincentio whom we find warm and generous if a bit misguided in trusting Angelo, who is portrayed with callous venom and full-blown corruption by Seth Blum, whose evil gleams in his rapacious eyes.
Victor Rivera sweetly and innocently plays the stunned Claudio, who cannot conceive that he has committed a crime, let alone cope with the punishment that is to be meted out. Isabella, the victimized sister of Claudio is played, too quietly too often, by Rebecca Blum who brings a tender pensiveness to the role as she grapples with a life-changing decision.
Lucio, Claudio’s best friend, and a constant source of laughter for his gadfly ways, is played brilliantly by Stephen Wall, who captures the Shakespearean clown well. Pompey, a pimp, a female pimp in this production, is described by the Bard as a clown; and Tara Nicole Williams camps it up uproariously in the role, bringing the comic relief Shakespeare no doubt intended.
Michelle Johnson is anxious and eager in the role of Mariana, whose dowry was lost at sea, and thus scuttling her impending marriage to Angelo. Jake Scheffer nicely carries two roles, the goofy constable Elbow and the unwilling prisoner Barnadine. A talented ensemble rounds out the cast.
Director Bev Schieman imaginatively directed this production, interspersing lines from T.S. Eliot’s poetry and Nancy Cunard’s with the Shakespearean dialogue, to reference the “Lost Generation” expatriates to Paris after the First World War. She also uses the screen of this old movie theater to project backdrops and comments — in 1920s-style silent-movie mode — to embed the sense of the era she drops this play into.
Karen Williams’ costumes are perfectly post-World War I era. The evoke the whole flapperesque atmosphere, intermingled with the clothing of the religious orders. Although no solutions are presented, issues are raised in this play that persist — issues of fairness, sexual rights, justice, and the purpose of government in daily life. Measure for Measure should stimulate some interesting conversations.
SECOND OPINION: March 22nd Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7330; March 20th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article15467366.html; March 19th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Sarah McQuillan: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2015/03/shakespeare-varsity; and March 18th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Brian Howe: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/measure-for-measure/Event?oid=4317986. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the March 23rd Triangle Review review by Pamela Vesper and Kurt Benrud, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/03/bare-theatre-sets-its-imaginative-presentation-of-measure-for-measure-in-paris-in-the-1920s/.)
Bare Theatre presents MEASURE FOR MEASURE at 7:30 p.m. March 26-28 and April 2-4 at the Varsity Theatre, 123 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514.
TICKETS: $19.62 including fees ($16.52 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel, including fees).
BOX OFFICE: 919-322-8819 or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1155453.
SHOW: http://baretheatre.org/measure-for-measure/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/752489781509735/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS (by G. Todd Buker): https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/baretheatre/measure-for-measure-0 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uk65OgW7H1U&feature=youtu.be.
PRESENTER: http://baretheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/BareTheatre, https://twitter.com/baretheatre, and https://www.youtube.com/user/TheBareTheatre.
VENUE: http://www.varsityonfranklin.com/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Varsity-Theatre/177484911880, and https://twitter.com/varsitytheatre.
Measure for Measure (c. 1603-04 “problem play”): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Measure_for_Measure (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://web.archive.org/web/20130122140528/http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/facsimile/overview/play/MM.html (Internet Shakespeare Editions, compiled by the University of Victoria and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada).
Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/measurefor/measure.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).
Bev Schieman (Chapel Hill, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1274045228 (Facebook page).
“Wherefore: Shakespeare in Raleigh” series: http://www.visitraleigh.com/wherefore/ (official web page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.