Sunday, December 6, 2015

Theater Review: Measure for Measure -- Long Wharf

Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Methinks This Measure for Measure is a Rare Treasure
By Lauren Yarger
Fiasco Theater has measured out fresh ingredients to come up with a delicious recipe for presenting one of William Shakespeare’s problem plays – a Measure for Measure that’s verily a treasure over at Long Wharf Theatre.

With just six actors playing all of the parts, this not-quite-a comedy, not-quite a tragedy brings a whole new way of sampling Shakespeare to the table. My compliments to the chefs: directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, who also perform in the ensemble. It’s modern, but true to form (with costumes designed by Whitney Locher that blend old and new styles) offering a unique presentation on a stark set (Derek McLane makes remarkable use of six moving doors and a few props) with brilliant lighting designed by Christopher Akerind.

Actors exiting the action sit upstage, often contributing sound effects or music on a number of instruments. To begin each act, the ensemble sings beautiful Renaissance-sounding acapella harmonies to enhance a lively and fresh interpretation of the classic.

The story follows Isabella (Emily Young), who abandons plans to become a nun when her brother, Claudio (Brody), is arrested for getting his lover pregnant. Angelo (Paul. L. Coffey), in charge during the absence of the Duke (Andy Grotelueschen), has decreed that such moral failing is punishable by death. Not all sin in Vienna is bad in Angelo’s eyes, however, as the lustful official offers to trade Claudio’s life for Isabella’s chastity.

She doesn’t acquiesce, however, and seeks the help of a friar (the duke in disguise) and Angelo’s former fiancĂ©e, Mariana (Jessie Austrian), to save her brother and her virtue. Rounding out the cast is Steinfeld as Lucio, a foppish man caught in the middle of it all.

New clarity and sharpness of focus made me want to stand and applaud the direction several times. All performances are excellent and transitions are made between characters without confusion. And that set really is brilliant: A filigreed metal door becoming a confessional with the addition of a few candles, then transforming into a cell gate with exceptional lighting was a highlight.

The more modern feel of the production turns our minds to contemporary headlines about politicians and religious leaders who advocate for strict moral codes, but who like Angelo, behave opposite of what they preach (and the show’s program offers some thoughts on some specific examples which have made headlines).

Fiasco Theater is an ensemble company created by graduates of the Brown University/Trinity Repertory MFA acting program. This production of Measure for Measure originally was developed and produced at New Victory Theater.

Measure for Measure plays through Dec. 20 at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 pm; Matinees Wednesday and Sunday at 2 pm, Saturdays at 3 pm. Tickets $25-$85: 203-787-4282; www.longwharf.org.


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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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