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Review Wed Mar 20 2013

Measure for Measure: Shakespeare's Comedic "Problem Play"

Measure.jpegWhere can you find a duke cleverly disguised as a priest, a cunning nun out to save her condemned brother by whatever means necessary, a handful of satirical plays-on-words, and enough whorehouses to be disreputable even by the lenient standards of the 1970s? Only in Robert Falls' production of William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure at the Albert Theater at the Goodman.

After the final curtain and a standing ovation, the man sitting behind me, whose commentary I had been tuned into throughout the entire production, said that he felt as if he'd been assaulted by the theater. The smile on his face told me he meant this in the best way possible. In my own way, I felt the same. The on-stage events were a loud, blaring, spray-painted, bell-bottom-wearing, nothing-barred strike to the audience's sense of morality and righteousness, but we couldn't stop laughing.

If I had stars to give, I'd throw five to this production. From the set to the acting, the lighting design to the interpretation of the script, the play was nothing short of what I would expect from the Goodman.

Shakespeare's 1604 play, set in Vienna, cast with Italians, and performed in London, received a modern upgrade from Robert Falls, the Tony Award-winning artistic director of the show. Falls' interpretation takes place in 1970s New York City, with a colorful cast of American citizens (who retain their original Italian names). Yet, as Neena Arndt, associate dramaturg at the Goodman aptly notes in the playbill, as with all of Shakespeare's plays, the times and places are as ambiguous as they are relevant, and the action may as well be today in 21st Century Chicago. The play, although hilarious, affronts many important issues of balance between the political, religious, lawful and moral spheres, a testament to Shakespeare's talent for bringing a higher message to the masses in a form that they not only understand, but also enjoy.

The play revolves around Isabella (Alejandra Escalante), a young and pious nun whose brother has been condemned to death, and the clever and playful Duke (James Newcomb), without whom the play would certainly end in premature tragedy. The Duke leads the colorful and sinful cast through a maze of dramatic events through which only he knows the way. In true Shakespearean fashion, the Duke lets the comedic happenings play out completely before revealing the truth.

~*~

Measure for Measure (2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission) runs through April 14 at the Albert Theater at the Goodman. Tickets are $25-$86 and are available online or by calling 312-443-3800. NOTE: The play contains adult content; not recommended for anyone under 18.

 
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