The nature of justice in civic affairs and honor and integrity in personal contexts are under consideration in Shakespeare’s disquieting “Measure For Measure,” playing through Nov. 18 in the Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre.
Part of the Globe’s partnership with USD, this production features student actors directed by Ray Chambers.
Never shy about borrowing sources, Shakespeare seems to have combined the plots of three ancient folktales here: “The Corrupt Magistrate,” “The Disguised Ruler” and “The Substituted Bedmate.”
Considered one of the Bard’s “problem plays,” this offers a bleak view of mankind without a Shakespearean tragic figure to purge it. Instead, we are left to consider our own lives, actions and honor.
The plot, set in 16th-century Vienna, has the kindly Duke Vincentio (Christopher Salazar), dispirited by what he sees as rampant licentiousness among his people, temporarily handing over power to his straight-arrow friend Angelo (Matthew Bellows). He leaves venerable old counselor Escalus (here played by the young, pretty and most excellent Danielle O’Farrell) to advise Angelo.
Angelo begins by condemning Claudio (Adam Gerber) to death for impregnating his fiancee, despite the fact that this is a love match and marriage is the intention of both parties. (That Angelo committed the same infraction will become known later.)
When Claudio’s sister, the novice nun Isabella (Whitney Wakimoto), pleads for her brother’s life, Angelo offers the “Tosca” solution: a tryst in exchange for Claudio’s life. What’s worse, when she reports this to Claudio, he counsels her to agree. Sometimes, Shakespeare suggests, virtue can be a vice.
Unknown to all, the Duke hasn’t gone anywhere: he’s been walking around town disguised as a friar, and is not cheered by what he has seen. He has, however, been both amused and annoyed by the fop Lucio (a hilarious Jeremy Fisher), who gets trapped in his own lies.
Other comic relief is offered by professional drunk Barnardine and the word-challenged Constable Elbow (both wonderfully played by Kushtrim Hoxha) and by bawd Pompey (a funny Sean-Michael Wilkinson).
Stephen Hu does a fine turn as the duke’s Provost, as do Meghan Boeing and Erin Elizabeth Adams as Mistress Overdone and Claudio’s intended Juliet.
Gerber does a fine turn as the condemned Claudio. Wakimoto is excellent as Isabella; Salazar credible as the Duke-turned-friar.
Bellows has good stage presence as Angelo, but has a tendency to rush his lines.
Kudos also to the design team: Sean Fanning for his versatile set design; Chris Rynne and Kevin Anthenill for their fine lighting and sound designs, and most especially to Eliza Benzoni for her beautiful costumes.
In the end, the duke concocts a ruse to save Claudio and ensnare Angelo without besmirching Isabella’s virtue. Even Angelo’s rejected girlfriend Mariana (Stephanie Roetzel) will get what she wants.
But we’re left to contemplate what happened to those human virtues honor and integrity.
“Measure For Measure” plays through Nov. 18 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre,1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.
Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 8 pm.
For tickets, call 619-234-5623 or visit HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.