Measure for Measure
They don’t call it a problem play for nothing. Since Peter Brook’s 1950 staging starring John Gielgud, Measure for Measure has enjoyed increasing popularity; the past decade has seen productions at both Chicago Shakespeare and Next Theatre. Part of the fascination lies in the play’s myriad interpretive enigmas. How to deal, for instance, with the odd and apparently cruel behavior of Vienna’s Duke (Tobin), who, after abdicating his throne, engages in elaborate, unnecessary charades including staging the death of the noble Claudio (Zach Clark)? How should we feel about the simultaneously generous and chilly nature of Claudio’s virginal sister, Isabella (Wolf), as she’s menaced by the lusty hypocrite Angelo (Pastor)? And what to make of one of the least satisfying sets of final romantic matchups this side of Two Gentlemen of Verona?
The unsettling tonal range of Shakespeare’s dark comedy makes it a tricky choice for a company, like Promethean, embarking on the Bard for the first time. (Steppenwolf hedged its bets this season with The Tempest, after all.) While the company deserves praise for tackling this rich and difficult text, the results are unrewarding. The primary issue lies with a variety of clashing performance styles, ranging from Pastor’s lofty declamations through Nick Lake’s relentlessly crowd-pleasing Lucio to the relatively pallid recitations of Wolf and Tobin. Some scenes, most notably the “deathbed” conversation between Isabella and Claudio, come to life, but too much of this tangled play remains obscured by Promethean’s tentative approach.