Monday, October 11, 2010

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

By Joe Straw

Day and Night.  

Sometimes the days can be glorious. One observes life scattered in various forms happily surviving in our oxygen rich environment.  People blissfully move around surrounded by pleasant winds and with religious values greet on soft summer days.  

And then, the day becomes the night. 

And the loitering few become lucifugous creatures, gazing with protruding eyes, absorbing signs of weakness from those around them.  Brothels, massage parlors, and drug dealers cry out to the night and suddenly become visible on every corner (think Times Square in the sixties) and eventually we become so fed up that something needs to be done. 

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare is a play that explores the corrections in life’s movements. Now presented by A Noise Within Theatre in Glendale and directed by Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez – Elliott.

Set in current day Vienna, albeit a seedier side, where human wayward consumption and corruption is the unwritten law of the land. 

The Duke, Robertson Dean, understands things needs to change.  He has become very indolent in regard to cleaning up Vienna.  He is majestic and clear in purpose but the untidiness in Vienna is more than he can tolerate and he leaves his underlings to do the dirty work.  

Lord Angelo, Geoff Elliott, plays his cousin.  A God fearing friar that takes the assignment with some trepidation at first but then takes it on with exuberance. He uses his power to facilitate corrective measures in the extreme. And with the help of God he takes his task to clean up while the Duke is away, clean up the city and its lustful ways.  He is also as sexed starved as any human being on the planet. (Present company excluded.)

Escalus, Mitchell Edmonds, a wise advisor, has been instructed to help Friar Angelo in his capacity as someone who knows the laws of the land and to help unsoiled that which has been soiled.  Although one suspects Escalus is ambivalent about this venture he accepts the job as a courtesy to the Duke.

And they both watch as the Duke’s helicopter rides off to places unknown. (After all, this is a modern day version.)

And so, as the wheels of the new government turn, it’s discovered that Claudio, William Patrick Riley, has been taken to jail to be executed because he has gotten his girlfriend, Juliet (Courtney Kocak) pregnant.

Pompey: Yonder man is carried to prison.

Mistress Overdone:  Well; what has he done?

Pompey:  A woman.

Mistress Overdone:  But what ‘s his offence:

Pompey:  Grouping for trouts in a peculiar river. 

Claudio seeks advice from Lucio (Stephen Rockwell) and implores him to contact his sister Isabella (Karron Graves) because of her connection to the convent, innocent beauty and incredible power of persuasion.

But while the Duke is away thinking, he finds that Lord Angelo has gone overboard in his powers.  He instructs Friar Thomas (Thomas Moses) to teach him to be a true Friar so that he may go back incognito, keep an eye on his kingdom, and make sure measures are handled properly. 

Lord Angelo is precise;
Stands at a guard with envy; scarce confesses
That his blood flows – The Duke 

Lucia meets with Isabella, tells him his brother Claudio is schedule to be executed and implores her to meet with Lord Angelo.

In the meantime Lord Angelo is going nuts, despite the wisdom of Escalus, Angelo is putting everyone to death.  (This is possibly an exaggeration, but you get the picture.)

So Claudio is being executed and help is on the way. Isabella speaks to Lord Angelo, make a good argument, but in the end she offers her virginal self to Angelo.  Moments later she decides against it.

Angelo: Plainly conceive, I love you.

Isabella:  My brother did love Juliet, and you tell me that he shall die for it.

Angelo: He shall not, Isabel, if you give me love.

Lord Angelo tries to have his way with Isabella but in the end she fights him off and tells him that she’s going to the authorities.  It is a response counter measure when Angelo tells her he is the authority and besides no one would believe her over him.

Isabella meets with Claudio and tells him she’s not giving over her virginal self with anyone to save his life, brother or no brother.  It is a measured response that eventually, despite future hardships, pays off in the end.

A Noise Within is without question one of the finest theatres in the Los Angeles area. Shakespeare made simple, grand characters, and stories that are always easy to follow even though it’s Shakespeare.

And it is here that there are some of the finest actors working on this stage, in town, today.  Even the supporting players are grand and glorious!

Michael Faulkner as Elbow, a police officer, was tremendous and one couldn’t help but think, Barney Fife. Still this is a marvelous role and a great characterization by a very fine actor.

Peter Larney as Abhorson, the hangman, was another character that was outstanding in this production.  He is tall, lanky, and sure-footed.  He plods away on stage with the idea that every moment is precious.  Yet he takes his job seriously and doesn’t sweat the details of someone else’s final termination or execution.   He has a powerful voice and was delightful. 

Bramhall as Pompey was another one of those outstanding characters.  Think Ron Woods of the Rolling Stones as a pimp and there you have it.  This was an outstanding performance.

Barnardine (Thomas Moses, again) was delightful.  A small and funny portrayal of a man living in the gallows, awaiting his execution, and not giving an inch to his final extermination.  Built like the prisoner cartoon character that hangs from chains on the wall, and giving his final observations on life.

Rockwell as Lucio reminds me of an agent I know, willing to say the anything on behalf of his client (Isabella) and willing to go to extremes in order to protect his client.  This is a wonderful performance.

Edmonds as Escalus was exciting.  One would think that he would and should push harder for his initiatives, for doing the right thing, and for asking for supreme forgiveness to the Duke for falling for Angelo’s laws.

Weingartner as Provost does an admirable job as a sympathetic jailer. 

Riley as Claudio did not seem distraught as one would imagine of someone just hours away from the gallows.  If this is not fully executed the reasons for everyone’s objective is not important and doesn’t give it the urgency that is needed in this production.

Dean as the Duke is a staple at a Noise Within and is always wonderful.  Subtle in his approach to Isabella one thinks, at some point, when he is the Friar, that he has to fall madly in love with her and will do anything to help her.

Geoff Elliott as Angelo is always interesting.  It’s the voice that takes you away. Rising and falling, engaging and always in the moment, but as lustful as he is he should find the moment when he is willing to get down on his knees and beg for Isabella.

Graves as Isabella was fantastic. She is strong, decisive and persuasive, but young enough to need encouragement from Lucio.  It is definitely a role that requires a closer look at the thoughts going through her head. Those defining moments need to be seen for example when she decides to give herself to Angelo, or when she changes her mind about her brother. And one is not really sure at the moment in this play when she has fallen in love with the Duke or his power and visa versa.

Rounding out the excellent cast were Jill Hill as Mariana, Matt Shepherd as Froth and in multiple roles, Friana Hodes as Francisca, Sarah Armstrong, Elizabeth Fabie, Taylor Jackson Ross, Kurt Quinn, Lindsay Styler, Eizabeth Zerebko as various aides, messengers, and others who inhabit the dark side.

Julia Rodriguez – Elliott and Geoff Elliott as directors do an excellent job with this production.  Both are instrumental in finding actors, exploring the characters, guiding them, and bringing this all to life. There were a lot of wonderful moments in this production that cannot be missed. 

In the end it is unclear that Isabella’s final steps have her walking into the darkness or the light, into the day or night.  I suppose it’s a matter of a measured perspective.

Through December 5, 2010

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