In the words of T.S. Eliot: “Let us go then, you and I …” to Bare Theatre’s modern-dress presentation of Measure for Measure at the Varsity Theatre in Chapel Hill.
If we told you that you could spend an evening watching a play about Lust, Chastity, Politics, Justice, Injustice, Deception, Forgiveness, Capital Punishment, Sex, Extortion, would you be intrigued? What if we told you that it was a play written by <strongWilliam Shakespeare in the early 1600s, but executed with a 1920s’ flair!?
Ladies and Gentlemen, Bare Theatre’s Measure for Measure!
There are two things that we have come to expect from Bare Theatre’s brand of Shakespeare:
- The “show” begins way before the first line of the script is spoken.
- There is always “something more” offered — something above and beyond the script itself.
Under Bev Schieman’s direction, Measure for Measure delivers on both counts. She sets the action Paris in the 1920s, a period appropriate for the play’s themes. Karen Williams gives us costumes that are fun, flirty, and period-appropriate. Entering the theater, we noticed that even the box office attendant was dressed in period costume. We were then ushered to our seats by two of the actual characters (who interacted with us “in character”). Once she had ushered the last of us to our seats, Tara Nicole Williams (as Pompey) took the stage and welcomed us to the world of the play with one of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
The scenario is classic: the powerful Duke hands over his power to a deputy and “leaves town” (but actually sticks around in disguise to see how those around him will act in his absence). As we might expect, power corrupts. Angelo (the deputy) proceeds to go overboard enforcing laws. He decides to arrest and execute Claudio for getting his fiancé pregnant. When Claudio’s sister, Isabella, a novice nun, comes to Angelo to plead for her brother’s life, Angelo agrees to pardon him, if Isabella will yield up her virginity in return. In effect, he offers this perverse choice: “I will cut off either your brother’s head or your (maiden)head.”
Justice literally sleeps; hypocrisy reins supreme. Rebecca Blum is superb as a conflicted, distraught novice who must decide whether or not to trade her chastity for her brother’s life. Tara Nicole Williams is bawdy and fun as the madam Pompey — the yin to Isabella’s yang. And Lucinda Gainey tickled us with her portrayal of the Provost (who falls asleep at every turn).
Playgoers who are familiar with the script will be pleasantly surprised by Joanna Vickery Herath’s fresh interpretation of Escalus — somewhat of a fuss-budget who seems more than a little bothered by the Duke’s decision to leave Angelo in charge.
And: Lucio! Lucio! Lucio! Stephen Wall is ideal as “the guy who simply cannot shut up.” He and Matt Schedler (as the Duke) show spot-on timing in their final scene together.
One of the strengths of this production is in the transformations that we witness in the characters. Seth Blum’s Angelo is visibly elated when he is handed the medallion of office and just as visibly daunted as he begins to face the challenges of office. We get the impression that the rigidity that we see in him is simply a defense mechanism. In his “good-angel/bad-angel” scene, he manifests the inner conflict; and we are witnesses to the actual process as he becomes smitten by Isabella.
Isabella first appears in a scene in which she trades her “civilian” clothes for the habit of a nun, and she is ecstatic about this transformation in her life.
Another strength in this choice of staging is, the simultaneous dressing of Isabella as nun and Duke Vincentio (in disguise) as a friar. It was impressive that the two donned their headgear at the exact same moment.
Although the actual stage remains nearly bare throughout, a series of projections on the movie screen behind the stage create the scene changes as we are moved from court to street to convent to prison and even to the world of a dream.
In the dream sequence, the video takes us through the dreamer’s stream of consciousness while we hear excerpts from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” (We heartily recommend re-reading the poem before attending the play. “And the women come and go ….” You’ll be glad you did.)
We attended on opening night, and we understand that several rehearsals were lost during the weeks of snow last month. Rough edges? Yes, a few. But easily forgiven and most likely easily overcome by this coming weekend.
We arrived right at curtain time. Don’t make the same mistake we made. Try to arrive early enough to have time to read the Director’s Notes and the Plot Summary. Your reward: an enhanced experience of Bev Schieman’s interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.
Don’t miss it.
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 Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/03/bare-theatre-pays-tribute-to-the-bard-by-staging-measure-for-measure-at-the-varsity-theatre/.)
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).
EDITOR’S NOTE: Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.