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Goodman’s Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure
Director: Robert Falls
Set Design by Walt Spangler
Costumes by Ana Kuzmanic
Lighting Design by Marcus Doshi
Sound Design by Richard Woodbury
Producer: Goodman Theatre
Principle Cast: Alejandra Escalante, Jeffrey Carlson, Kevin Fugaro, John Judd, James Newcomb, Jay Whittaker

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Robert Fall’s new production at the Goodman Theatre opens with a drawn curtain to reveal an ominous city scene, circa 1970’s NYC – the street is darkened and dirtied by strewn trash and the occasional vagrant; the music is thumping and sexy – out walk pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and muggers….in other words, we lay out scene on just another show written by Shakespeare, and this case being Measure for Measure. In it’s current state, everything under the Theatrical sun is getting a remount or revitalization and so to, Robert Falls has taken up the arms in re-thinking a well-beloved show of the Bard, certainly re-thinking he does, perhaps taking the show to task and coming out well ahead.

The initial Art Direction displayed from the marketing materials would indicate the this production fully cops to the Baz Lurman directed version of Romeo and Juliet circa 1996, but the reality is that the Goodman has done well to swerve attention to the fact the production is taking place and then deliver the goods on something completely different; Measure for Measure has been dirtied down and grown a thick skin.

In case you aren’t familiar with this particular story of the Bard – Vincentio, the Duke decides to flee the city of Verona and while gone, Judge Angelo has been placed in charge. Known for his morally-strict and severe personage,  Angelo decides to enforce a law ruling that fornication is punishable by death to which a young Claudio, betrothed to Juliet, has broken. Now arrested and sentenced to be executed, Claudio’s sister Isabella pleads for Angelo to spare the life of her brother, chances saving her sibling by revoking her virtue and solidarity to the monastery in which Isabella belongs; Angelo offers to cancel the execution in exchange for the virtuous nun’s virginity. Amidst all of this we discover that the Duke has never left Verona, but having disguised himself as a priest in order to spy on Angelo, and keep the city at finger’s length, discovers the full story of the Judge’s plea bargain to which the Duke devises a twisted trap to teach a lesson.

2Directionally, Falls has taken Measure for Measure on with an expediency of today’s episodic tv. Yes, every character still has an over-arching goal but they seem more concerned with the moment to moment in this production. As a show with a large ensemble and (in this particular case) high production values, Measure certainly houses loads of talent. James Newcomb’s Duke is precise and calculated to a well-balanced point.  Jay Whittaker’s challenged, tortured and two-faced Angelo is one to admire  – If there would only be one reason to see this show it’s this performance alone. Walt Spangler & Marcus Doshl’s flourishing and exquisite scenic & lighting design propel Measure’s characters & story into a wonderfully seedy neon World that hasn’t been this interesting to look at in years. Sound designer Richard Woodbury has toned this production with the perfect amount of backroom-filth that leaves its audiences feeling as if they need a shower once leaving the confines of the Albert Theatre space.

Overall the current production at Goodman Theatre certainly isn’t a perfect one and relies a little too much on some of the lower-brow comedy moments to connect with it’s audience, but Robert Falls has embraced the ridiculous to direct a very strong and worthy performance to attend. For a show that was originally aimed at the more upper-class than the common folk, Falls has done a marvelous job at not only capturing the thoughts of those well-versed in Shakespeare, but also stopping occasionally to give a nod to those who may be novices in the process.  Audiences will find the changes to the script and unconventional style of Direction to be either unbearable or arrestingly-engrossing, but one thing everyone can find is immense thought for Concept and World in a production that is top-notched and highly recommended.

Fresh Roasted Rating: A
Other notable performances:
Jeffrey Carlson plays the over-the-top and dandy Lucio, the town’s meddling know-it-all who’s comedy and timing is as bright and admired as his outfit.

Sean Fortunato as the odd Elbow gives just a layered and idiosyncratic turn as a beat cop for the city.

Measure for Measure runs through April 14 at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago. 312-443-3800)
For tickets, please visit the Goodman’s site HERE

– Matt Miles, Producer of Fresh Roasted Films

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