"Measure for Measure" is one of those plays that was always looked over in my high school and college Shakespeare classes. One of the Bard's problem plays, it touches on morality without a satisfying and happy finish. I love drama, so I made a note to go check it out when I saw that Folger Theatre was producing the play as part of its "he said/she said" season. Not having studied it, I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised by the show.
The play is a fascinating hybrid of classical text, modern techniques and sometimes futuristic costumes (Lucio sports a leather trench coat that makes him seem like a visitor from "The Matrix and many characters wear vividly bright eye makeup in shades of orange and red.). The acting is solid without any strange devices, but the production makes full use of space and lighting to enhance the actors' lines and emotions. At the start of the performance, when the Duke expresses distaste for the townspeople's declining morals, he sits in front of a suggestive painting by Egon Schiele and the lights glow heated red. Beyond lighting and the background portrait, the stage is strikingly bare with attention often directed upward as lines from the play and the bible are flashed as supertitles on an overhead screen. Finally, in a nod to "Sesame Street" and "Avenue Q," several characters are depicted as puppets. I'm still not quite sure how they determined which characters would be puppets, but it seemed to be those characters who were so purely good or so morally depraved that they were inhuman.
The Folger takes full advantage of its production enhancements to ask questions about morality and love. While this isn't Shakespeare's best work, the production is pretty innovative and makes the most of the material. Besides, any show that makes use of an Egon Schiele and a trench coat is worth the price of admission.
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