Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Measure for Measure"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Beverly Creasey

The Measure of Success

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

You probably know this already but it's 10 degrees cooler over at the Charles River ...and all of us who came in our short sleeves to the Publick Theatre on press night needed blankets before the performance was over. There's something lovely about theater out of's so soothing to be under a still, dark sky framed by the lacy silhouettes of trees. The stars, too, twinkle more brilliantly just this short distance from the street. And Shakespeare seems more magical here.

This summer the Publick is presenting "Measure for Measure". After all, director Spiro Veloudos says, how many "Midsummer Nights Dreams" can you have in one year? "Measure for Measure" to jog your memory, has in it the famous "bed trick" where one woman is substituted for another in the marital bed. (We're all so alike!) The "bed trick" (also employed in "All's Well That Ends Well") is central for Oxfordians to the Authorship Question ... because of an actual instance of wife-switching with the randy Oxfords, documented in Morant & Wright's "History of Essex". It's the old write-what-you-know theory.

"Measure for Measure" has a Duke who tests his subjects' honesty by passing unrecognized among them disguised as a priest. Finding a goodly number of them wanting, he imposes marriage as a severe sentence for wrong-doing...a fate worse than death for the transgressors. (That Shakespeare. What a romantic!)

The success of the play relies on the unravelling of the Duke's deceptions in Act II being as compelling as the set-ups were in Act I. Director Veloudos almost pulls it off, although the end comes very slowly. "Measure for Measure" ultimately pleases because of some deft comic performances and the sweet romance which comes out of a really slimy test of one woman's virtue.

Kudos to Richard LaFrance for making a subsidiary role sparkle...even dance! The requisite slapstick (Think Dogberry) is provided by Geoffrey Burns, and naughty laughs by Robert Saoud and Cliff Allen. Laura Yosowitz keeps the heroine noble and pure without becoming insufferable. Michael Tuvin is her charismatic doomed brother and Diego Arciniegas is the dastardly (but remarkably human) despot. It's a pleasure to see Neil McGarry back at the Publick in the role of the dashing Duke with way too much time on his hands. He sets all the plots into motion and then knots them up tighter and tighter until you think they'll never be untied.

Brent Wachter's streamlined castle set is stunningly austere and elegant. Toni Bratton's updated, zany costumes are quirky and elegant. Only the music between scenes seems out of place, as if someone were still deciding which era would "Measure" up.

"Measure for Measure" (till 25 july)
Christian Herter Park, Soldiers Field Road, BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide