Monday, September 23, 2013

Measure for Measure Theatre Review

Cameron Folmar wows the crowd as Lucio

A Remedy Presents Itself

The unthinkable is starting to happen: I'm becoming a fan of live theater. Well, not just any theater... specifically the brand showcased at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. After a rousing Free For All production of Much Ado About Nothing, STC's 2013-14 season officially opened with Measure for Measure, directed by Jonathan Munby.

The intimate Lansburgh Theatre was abuzz from the moment I sat down, courtesy of a scrumptious pre-show cabaret headlined by the über-charismatic Cameron Folmar. To be frank, you could package this prologue as a show of its very own... It's that good. The setting (complete with actors literally embracing the audience in the aisles) sets a festive backdrop for Shakespeare's famous story of justice, mercy and sex. The latter earns the play a recommendation for mature audiences (partial nudity and adult situations.)

Miriam Silverman and Scott Parkinson (r) as Isabella & Angelo

Set in 1930's Vienna, we're introduced to Vincentio, the Duke (Kurt Rhoads) a powerful man with all sorts of issues (including a penchant for anger.) The Duke decides to hang up his cleats and leave a city rife with sexual deviance. He hands over the "keys to the city" to tight-fisted Angelo (Scott Parkinson) who wastes little time in restoring order. This means shutting down all the local brothels and arresting young aristocrat Claudio (Avery Clark) whose only crime is getting his fiancé  pregnant. Claudio asks his pal Lucio (Folmar) to reach out to his sister Isabella (a nun in training, played by Miriam Silverman) to petition on his behalf.

What Isabella doesn't know (at least not yet) is that the cost of her brother's freedom means coughing up her virginity to seedy Angelo. Measure for Measure goes about Isabella's quest for justice, and her partnership with a kindly friar (the Duke, in disguise) who plans alternate means for Isabella to fake her own deflowering.

Munby's production is beautifully staged, and magnificently portrayed by a superb and engaging cast. Folmar injects miles of humor, "Which of your hips has the most sciatica?" while Parkinson and Silverman engage in their awkward/sometimes violent game of cat and mouse (guess which one is the cat?) Parkinson is especially good as the rigid Angelo, who manages to get a laugh early on by grabbing a telephone, handkerchief first. From there on however, Angelo proves ruthless (both in dispensing justice as well as salacious intentions.) His negotiations with the forthright Isabella are a sight to see, outdone only by his callous disregard, '"Your brother dies tomorrow. Be content."

Jaysen Wright, Chris Genebach, Hugh Nees and Kurt Rhoads (r)

Rhoads dons dual roles, and hits a chord as Friar Lodowick; although I couldn't help but notice a lack of projection (perhaps done on purpose... after all, his character is at odds with himself.) Chris Genebach plays a proper villain, while Hugh Nees shines as the Elbow, "Elbow is your name?" "My name is Elbow. I do lean on justice." Big laughs. Silverman shows Isabella's conflict with true conviction, especially when she tries to persuade her brother to do the right thing, thus sparing a need for her to take action: So much for a nun's sacrifice, although I don't blame her... Claudio does little to elicit sympathy, sneakily trying to downplay his sister's chore, "of the deadly sins... it's the least." What a peach!

The true stars of this production though, are Folmar and Parkinson. The latter oozes pervy, especially when he sniffs the seat where Isabella once sat: It doesn't take long to dislike him. Folmar meanwhile appears to have written the book on pervy, albeit in a far more jovial manner. The stage comes alive when he steps on it: You get the impression, that he's the life of the party wherever he lays his hat. I can't wait to see him again.

It wouldn't be a great show without a great stage, and Set Designer Alexander Dodge does a bang-up job. Nazi-like characters dance in and out of the darkness, manipulating stage pieces with symphonic harmony. The show is seamless, and looks gorgeous throughout. I especially loved the moving prison cells and their accompanying clangs. This show is first rate, all the way.

Grade: B+