Review | Measure For Measure: theater underdone

Theatre Unbound, through April 8

The Ensemble in MEASURE FOR MEASURE. Photo by Anne Bertram.

It isn’t surprising that Theatre Unbound, a company formed by women for the advancement of women theatre artists, was drawn to mount a production of Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure (playing through April 8, in the lovely Gremlin Theatre). In their publicity for the show they call Measure For Measure “the #metoo story of Shakespeare’s time.”

The basic plot goes like this: Claudio is sentenced to die for committing “fornication” by impregnating his girlfriend. Claudio’s sister, Isabella, pleads for his life with the puritanical Angelo, only to be offered a deal she can’t accept. Angelo says he will pardon Claudio if she agrees to go to bed with him. Typical of Shakespeare, the plot involves a web of secondary characters who spin the theme of sexual purity versus law and judgement in diverse ways.

There are things to like in Theatre Unbound’s production of Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure. Ashembaga (Ashe) Jaafaru as the main character Isabelle has a wonderful stage presence and just the right touch of innocence to make us believe that she really is a devoted novice in a convent. When she pleads for her brother’s life Jaafaru goes from meek to assertive with firm resolve. She has a natural talent for Shakespeare’s language rendering it both musical and understandable. Meri Golden is terrific as the ne’er do well street con, Lucio. She manages a ready quip with a twinkle in her eye as she spouts the blank verse of Shakespeare’s text. She moves about the stage with an easy, cool-guy stride and a rakish tilt of the head. Samantha Joy Singh as Angelo and Travis Bedard as the bawdy rascal Pompey are also impressive.

But the production on opening night suffered from other actors, particularly Charla Marie Bailey in the important role of the Duke, who didn’t do nearly so well with their lines. Because of this, scenes often became stilted and slow. Erratic light cues and odd sound effects didn’t help.

Measure For Measure is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays but it will probably see more productions now that duplicity versus honesty around matters of sex has become a hot topic. Hopefully this particular production will get better as the run continues and it gets a little more time on stage.

Please visit Mari’s informational website.

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