Sunday, July 8, 2012

Measure for Measure -- Mercy and Justice

Review of NWCTC’s Measure for Measure (7-7-2012)

Measure for Measure is not for everyone. The whole plot revolves around what can only be called “adult content.” That being said, however, Shakespeare uses this framework to explore the delicate balance between justice and mercy, much as he does in Merchant of Venice (only better, in my opinion). Shakespeare is obviously thinking back to Matthew 7:1-2, especially where it says, “by your standard of measure it will be measure to you.” Some may be disturbed that in the end Shakespeare’s plea for mercy appears to let everyone off the hook for their lewd behavior, but for me at least, the take-away was more that living according to the spirit of the law is often harder than just blindly adhering to the letter. It’s better to extend mercy and change someone’s life than to cut that life short.

Because of its subject matter, Measure for Measure must be a very difficult play to stage, and yet director Butch Flowers and his talented cast and crew did a tasteful and very good job with it. They successfully navigate around the myriad pitfalls and avoid the temptation to go overboard with the innuendos and raciness. Even the costuming, which in many plays is inappropriate with much less motivation, was modest. If you’re going to have a problem with this play, it will be with Shakespeare’s story, not with Flowers’ vision of it.

Technically the play was beautiful; sets, lighting music and costumes were all just right. Performance-wise, it was brilliant. There wasn’t a single character that didn’t sparkle. Jayson Shanafelt’s intensity and fixity of purpose made for an excellently awful Angelo. Bonnie Auguston’s Isabella was a believable novice nun in an awkward and tight spot. And Chris Porter made an great if somewhat abrupt Duke Vincentio. Joe Healy’s Provost and Nathan Crosby’s Claudio were both wonderfully sympathetic, as was Clara-Liis Hillier’s Mariana. The whole production was well-paced, and Jason Maniccia’s comic timing as Lucio was hysterical. The bits with the executioner and his apprentice had me in absolute stitches – well done, Matt Pavik and David Burnett!

As I was watching I had a hard time thinking of any way the production could be improved. But as I thought more about it and eavesdropped to the responses of the audience, I think perhaps a little more emphasis on the mercy vs. justice theme would have helped. That, however, is really the only thing I can think of that would make it even better.

Measure for Measure is a powerful play, but not one that is necessarily accessible or even appropriate for everyone. It’s lesson, however, is one that bears repeating:

“For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

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