“MEASURE FOR MEASURE” A SHAKESPEAREAN PLEASURE


BONNIE GOLDBERG

New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre is welcoming a new cast of characters to their main stage, the Fiasco Theater Company, comprised of graduates from Brown University who banded together in the early 2000's to produce ensemble productions. With a mission of offering "dynamic, joyful, actor-driven productions of classic and new plays," they are bringing their collaborative creative energies to present William Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" until December 20.

Although billed as a comedy by some and a tragedy by others, it doesn’t fit neatly into either category, despite the best efforts of slapstick performers Lucio (Ben Steinfeld), Pompey (Noah Brody) and Elbow (Paul L. Coffey). Dealing with themes of truth, justice, mercy and pride, this "problem play" wraps a lot of serious thinking around how easily power can be corrupted.

When the Duke (Andy Grotelueschen) appoints a temporary ruler of Vienna in his place, Angelo (Paul L Coffey), and disguises himself as a priest to discover the pulse of his city, his replacement decides to stop the corruption that is rampant by enforcing laws that are ancient and have stiff punishments attached. Caught in this new moral trap is Claudio (Noah Brody) who is imprisoned and sentenced to death by beheading for making his fiancee pregnant without benefit of marriage.

Even though in many eyes his marriage to Julietta is valid, Claudio faces death. To save his life, Claudio enlists the aid of his sister Isabella, played by a fiery Emily Young, a novice nun, to intercede with Angelo and beg for mercy. The crafty Angelo declares he will spare Claudio’s life but only if Isabella sleeps with him and gives up her virtue. The maid Mariana (Jessie Austrian) helps Isabella work some feminine magic.

Through a series of elaborate trickeries and deceits, as only the Bard can arrange, Claudio’s life is saved as well as Isabella’s virginity, and the Duke reappears as the Friar to unmask the villainous Angelo. Lucio, a friend of Claudio’s, is so busy spreading slander, like peanut butter on whole wheat bread, about both the Friar and the Duke, that he gets himself figuratively drowning in a vat of grape jelly. Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld share credits for directing this dramatically comic offering.

Six actors play all the parts, with a set defined by six doors that are rolled in a variety of configurations that designate the action. Fiasco Theater is a collaborative effort, making all their creative decisions together, with minimalist scenery and an actor driven text. They attack their question mark dramatic moments and equally effective slapstick comic moments with vigor and dedication.

For tickets ($25 and up), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharftheatre.org. Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 pm. and 7 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m. Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Hypocrisy and corruption bubble and boil in Vienna as Claudio declares “I hope to live but I am prepared to die” in this involving tale of power gone awry.


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