I visited the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City during the preview week of its 2014 season, watching the second preview show for each of the six plays. I will be posting my reviews all week on this blog. I will link my reviews as they become public.
A Comedy of Errors on 6/29/14
Twelfth Night on 6/30/14
Henry IV part one on 7/1/24
Sense and Sensibility on 7/3/14
Into The Woods on 7/4/14
Why go to the Utah Shakespeare Festival on 7/5/14
Unless otherwise noted, all photos used will be from the festival website, bard.org. Also, all information regarding tickets, seminars, tours, and classes for college credit is available there.
My thoughts on Measure For Measure:
Measure For Measure is one of Shakespeare's unfunny comedies. As I teach my 7th graders, a "comedy" in his day simply meant that usually no one died -- never the protagonist -- and that all the couples were matched up -- however stupid those matches may appear to a modern audience -- by the end of the play. Some comedies are truly funny, such as A Comedy of Errors, but others, such as A Winter's Tale and Measure For Measure, are far from hilarity.
That is not to say that there is no humor in the play. The character of Lucio, played at this year's festival by the versatile Jonathan Smoots, definitely lightens the mood as he tries to gain favors by cutting down first the Duke and then the Friar, not realizing that they are both the same person and that his lies have been detected.
The basic plot idea is that Duke Vincentio of Vienna (Shakespeare had a thing about Italianesque names, even for a play set in a Germanic place....) feels that he could be a better ruler if he could just find out the reason for the moral decline of his city, so he tells his assistants he is going to Poland but in reality disguises himself as a Friar to wander about the city in disguise and ... well, spy. This original conflict gets completely lost and is never resolved, as Angelo takes over and goes so right wing he'd make John Birch and the Teapartiers flinch.
Angelo, played incredibly realistically by Steve Wojtas, decides to enforce an old law that requires the beheading of men who fornicate, apparently even if they plan to marry the girl with whom they broke the law. Thus, Claudio, who has impregnated his fiancé Juliet (no, not THAT Juliet. Shakespeare recycled names frequently.) but who has not yet married her due to some technicality about her dowry, is arrested, imprisoned, and scheduled for execution.
Lucio, who's really not a bad-hearted guy, in spite of his bragging and lying, hopes to get Claudio released, so he goes to the convent where Claudio's sister, Isabella, is almost ready to take her final vows to become a nun. Lucio convinces her to try to persuade Angelo not to kill her brother, but to let him marry Juliet (duh).
What happens, unfortunately, is that the hypocritical Angelo's hormones are stirred, rather than his senses of justice and mercy, and he tells Isabella he'll release her brother if she yields up her virginity to him. (He's lying; he still plans to have Claudio killed.)
Fortunately, the Duke/Friar gets involved with a secret plan to swap-out Isabella for Marianna, Angelo's estranged fiancé, who has no other marriage options because of her betrothal to him, in a Leah-for-Rachel-in-the-dark bit of sex.
All works out in the end, of course, because this is a comedy.
So, this is a tough play. It's not a good choice for Shakespeare newbies. (In fact, I ended up sitting in front of a whole row of teenagers from some camp. They had been dragged to this play with no preparation whatsoever. They were confused and bored and disruptive. I had to give them the teacher evil eye more than once.) But it is a tough play done well.
There are really no weak spots at all. Every actor is superb and convincing. The set is good, the costumes are perfect, and everything flows. I have not one negative thing to say about this production; it is very fine indeed.
Yet, because the play is not an easy one, I would only recommend this to Shakespeare veterans, theatre lovers, and the like. This is not the play to see if you wish to begin your journey into Shakespeare. Try A Comedy of Errors or 12th Night for that. Or Henry IV, if you want something more serious.
But, if you like theatre and/or Shakespeare, you will not find a better Elizabethan version of this play. Go see it. :)