STC’s Measure for Measure An Uncomfortable Comic Tragedy

It may be all about the difference between law and justice — an eye for an eye and all of that — but it still makes for an uncomfortable evening.

Measure for MeasureDirector Jonathan Mumby takes a classic Shakespearean comic tragedy, Measure for Measure, and plops it into harsh Fascist Europe in the late 1930s for the latest at STC’s Landsburgh Theatre, making you wonder: Is there any instance where a pair of wrongs might actually make right?!

The scene is set with lively dancing and lasciviousness.  Cabaret culture is already juxtaposing the dual nature of humanity — and showcasing morals in free fall — but then you add the sexual assault of a soon-to-be-ordained nun in to the mix, and things get awkward… quickly.

The shenanigans start when the Duke of Vienna realizes his own values are falling into a precarious place and seeks the solace of a monastery respite, leaving the hard-hearted and iron-fisted Angelo to restore order to the town.  Angelo takes it upon himself to define vice and virtue — even condemning a man to death for fornication.  That man’s sister is the novice nun Isabella, who will face an evil Measure for Measurechoice given her by Angelo (surprisingly ever strictly above reproach before), who finds himself tempted by her unwavering holiness: sacrifice her virginity to Angelo, or let her brother be killed.

Through a series of conundrums and power struggles, Shakespeare — and Mumby — lead the audience toward this play’s infamous ending.  But if you’re looking for everyone’s actions to be weighed, measured and accounted for… expect a conclusion that reflects life’s real craziness.

*Measure for Measure plays at the STC Lansburgh Theatre through October 27th

Photos credit Scott Suchman

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