THEATER REVIEW: Measure for Measure 

Shakespeare’s version of Knocked Up: Boy gets girl pregnant, gets in trouble, in Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure
Thurs. Aug. 28, 29, 30, Sept. 1, 2 at 8 p.m.
Sun. Aug. 31 at 3 p.m.
Emmett Robinson Theatre
54 St. Philip St.
(843) 953-5604

This is the time of year when theater gets its groove back, when drama enthusiasts scan the horizon for exciting new productions slated for the fall.

But for those who can’t wait for October’s playbills, the College of Charleston’s presentation of Measure for Measure should suffice.

Part of its Shakespeare Project and staged at the Emmett Robinson Theater, Measure for Measure is a delicate, often brutish comedy that investigates the moral pliancy of sex, loyalty, and truth.

Set in Vienna in the early 1600’s, the play is presented in three sets, during which time the characters, most notably the Duke and Angelo, use the art of deception to discover uncomfortable truths.

The Duke is to set sail on a voyage. He has entrusted the pious Angelo with the law of the land. But the Duke is only using his voyage as a ruse. Instead he will watch how his people behave when they think he is not around.

In short order, Angelo condemns a man named Claudio. Claudio got his girlfriend pregnant before marrying her. Now Claudio is sentenced to die.

This sets off a maelstrom of protest from Isabella, Claudio’s beautiful sister. Isabella is about to join the sisterhood, but her brother’s misfortune, which is pounded into her brain by Claudio’s friend, Lucio, is too much for her to bear.

She postpones her plans, vowing instead to set her brother free.

The moral themes in Measure for Measure are strikingly relevant. Will Isabella abandon her sexual beliefs to improve her situation? Will Angelo’s power corrupt him and turn him into a hypocrite? Will the authorities res

ponsible for destroying the houses in the suburbs listen to the desperate pleas of the owners?

This Measure for Measure is worth seeing for other reasons. The Shakespeare Project’s 21-person cast comprises nimble performers balancing heady themes and crude humor. Its articulation and physical dexterity are smooth, and the play is revived by the cast’s energy, especially toward the end.

Paul Whitty’s portrayal of Angelo is earnest and compelling, even as Angelo becomes a vulnerable outcast. Evan Parry’s Duke of Vienna is authentically wise, a round-shouldered inquisitor with the cracked charisma of a born leader. And Isabella, played by Jessica McClellan, achieves a strong, seductive gracefulness that keeps her performance honest and clean.

For these reasons Measure for Measure remains an important, entertaining piece of contemporary theater.

It just happens to take place 400 years ago.

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