I love me some Shakespeare. I really do. I’ve performed in, watched and read Shakespearean plays. So it’s always a treat when I get a chance to review it, especially when it’s a play I am not familiar with. Green Globe, Baltimore’s only eco-friendly theater, takes on Measure for Measure, a play about purity, justice, mortality, and mercy. Sounds like my kind of show. My date and I downloaded the digital program from the website (keeping it green ya’ll) just as the lights went down.
Vincentio, Duke of Vienna (Rosie Crockett), decides to take a trip and leaves a strict judge, Angelo (Linus T. Owens), in charge. Low and behold, and befitting of many Shakespeare comedies, the Duke doesn’t leave town and choses to disguise himself as a monk to watch over Angelo. Guess he doesn’t trust him. During the Duke’s absence a young musician, Claudio (Joe Sweeney), is arrested and sentenced to death by Angelo because he broke a strict purity law of fornication. Basically he got a maid Juliet (Daniela Hernandez-Fujigaki) pregnant out of wedlock, even though they are kinda married already. Mistress Overdone (Daniela Hernandez-Fujigaki) a local madame and a “man about town” Pompey (Ari J. Eckley) tip off Angelo to Claudio’s indiscretion. Lucio (Jon Swift), a friend of Claudio, seeks out Claudio’s sister Isabella (Grace O’Keefe), a young nun, to speak to Angelo and save Claudio from the gallows. Of course Angelo gets off on being in control and he agrees to let Claudio free if Isabella agrees to sleep with him. Clutch the pearls! Actors Brandi Elizabeth Brown, Benjamin Badorf and Nicki Seibert round out the rest of the court playing several characters, which in the true Shakespearean way, happen to also be crucial to the central plot. No spoilers!
Before I start this review, I have to give a shout out to Daniela Hernandez-Fujigaki. She played several of the auxiliary characters and she effortlessly transformed into each one. She gets the award for most costume changes and best characterizations.
Now Shakespeare is not for the weak, so I want to commend the cast for taking on the Herculean task of performing this play. But I do wish that more care was taken to ensure the actors understood what they were saying and that it was communicated well. This was particularly an issue with the performance of the Duke (Rosie Crockett). I could tell that she understood the language, but I did not connect with what she was saying. She did not fully embody the slyness of the Duke. The Duke is a central character that should carry the plot, and Ms. Crockett needed a little more muscle. Measure for Measure was long (clocking in over 2.5 hours) and was missing the sense of pace and energy that I’m used to seeing in a Shakespearean comedy. One exception to that was the character of Pompey (Ari J. Eckley). Ari J. Eckley was full of life on stage and leaned into the silly Shakespeare jokes. They brought a much needed jolt of energy and sense of joy to the performance. There were a few questionable blocking choices and line rushing, but overall Ari J. Eckley had a solid performance. Actress Grace O’Keefe as Isabella was in a class by herself. She acted with passion and I could feel her conflict. She had a firm grip on the language and the nuances of emotion in the words. I saw her in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Vagabond Theatre earlier this year and she is definitely an actress to watch on the Baltimore theater scene. Lastly, she hit all of her consonants in the alliterative sections of the text! Yaasss consonants! I am a Shakespeare nerd, don’t judge me! She was a joy to watch in every scene she was in, but especially in scenes with Angelo (Linus T. Owens). Linus T. Owens also had a command of the language and great stage presence. His character filled the stage and he flowed between being unsure, pompous, and sincere in his performance. Linus T. Owens consistently hit the right emotional tones in the verse.
Costumes by Stephanie Clark were contemporary and embodied each character well. Full costume changes denoted a new character and the costumes fit well and were spot on. Jesse Marciniak’s projections were beautiful and helped to transport the audience to different scenes like a dungeon, a courthouse, a piazza, a convent or library. Lighting by Hayden Muller was soft and subtle. The lighting colors nicely supported the emotional scenes; however, I think the focusing was a little uneven. There were several patches at down center and mid center where the actors were not fully lit. Maybe it was the shadow cast by the projection screens? Not sure. Technical Director Glen von Haubritz created a multi-used structure that stood in the middle of the stage and acted as a prison, table, stairs, etc. This was a unique use of the space and it molded to the needs of the scene allowing the projections to carry the audience to each location. It was almost invisible like a chameleon. Almost. It took up a majority of the stage and did not leave a lot of room for the actors to work around. There were several instances where the actors moved behind the structure and it was hard to both hear and see them especially if they were shorter in statue. I could also see when actors entered and exited the structure to and from the wings. A masking near the structure could have helped this. Watching actors run to the wings was a little distracting.
Direction by Phil Vannoorbeeck was nuanced yet uneven. There were moments that the lights, acting and blocking were a trifecta of loveliness, but then it was followed by actors behind the set and plain performances. Casting was great in some areas and okay in others. Did the actors understand what they are saying? Cause I did not feel it from everyone. Lastly there was a lot of dead space between scenes (maybe to allow actors to change costumes into different characters) and care should be placed on keeping the show active and engaging. One aspect of the direction that was striking was the song interludes. They were a nice touch and helped to keep the story going. The songs were a cool, contemporary way to transition to a new action.
Final thoughts: As a lover of Billy Shakes I expected a little bit more from this performance of Measure for Measure. But what I did appreciate was the play’s selection. Green Globe’s choice of Measure for Measure was well-timed and current. Nice job Green Globe. This play was layered with so many themes. To me, it spoke directly to the constant berating women receive about how they should act and use their bodies. As if society had a choice. Why should Isabella have to choose between saving her brother and saving her virginity? See the show and find out how this plays out. Measure for Measure also had parallels to the Me Too movement. Quid pro quo is a thing in sexual harassment and assault in the work place and the scene where Angelo tried to persuade Isabella felt like I saw it on the news yesterday. Angelo was that creepy bro who I could imagine as a casting agent or a director and Isabella was a young actress just trying to do the right thing.
Should I stay or should I go? Well, I always tell people to see Shakespeare. He’s a dead white guy but he wrote beautiful verse and prose and had a knack for storytelling. Green Globe’s interpretation of Measure for Measure is a successful modern day approach to a classic. Was everything perfect? No. Were there were moments of brilliance? You betcha! Shakespeare Heads like me may see the flaws, but novices will enjoy the spirited performances as well as the intrigue and folly that make Bill’s works timeless. You should especially go see Measure for Measure if you enjoy seeing parallels of events happening now echoed in stories from the past. Although a little rough around the edges, Measure for Measure is an enjoyable night at the theater. Eat some left over Christmas dinner and go see Measure for Measure at Green Globe Theatre before it’s gone. (Z)
Only 2 more chances to catch the show! December 28th and 29th at 8pm. Show runs about 2 hours and 45 mins with an intermission.