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Reviewed by:
  • Measure for Measure
  • Freddi Lipstein
Measure for Measure Presented by The Folger Theatre, Washington, D.C. January 19-February 26, 2006. Directed by Aaron Posner. Set by Daniel Conway. Costumes by Devon Painter. Lighting by John Hoey. Sound by Neil McFadden. Puppet design by Aaron Cromie. With Mark Zeisler (Duke), Ian Merrill Peakes (Angelo), David Emerson Toney (Lucio), Craig Wallace (Provost), David Marks (Pompey), Mark J. Sullivan (Claudio), Marybeth Frtizky (Juliet), Karen Peakes (Isabella), Michelle Osherow (Mariana), Todd Scofield (Mistress Overdone, Elbow, Barnardine), and others.

Aaron Posner's production of Measure for Measure was so taut and carefully honed that I felt I was hearing parts of the text for the first time, despite having seen many notable productions and having read the play often. The set was Spartan, a bare stage with a box-shaped inner chamber set off with translucent screens, which appeared to be black until they were bathed in a red light that was meant to highlight Angelo's inner turmoil. The costumes were suggestive of the early seventeenth century. Angelo wore a three-quarter length gray cutaway coat, the Duke a long dark robe over trousers. The production was not anchored to a particular locale or period, however, and the overarching themes of public morality and private corruption underscored the continuing pertinence of the play.

In the opening scene, Isabella sat on a step in the foreground, praying. Gradually, the noises of the licentious city drowned out her prayers, and groans that evoked sexual encounters became more and more prominent as the lights came up on the other characters. The Duke sat in a high-backed chair center stage, and as the cacophony reached a fever pitch he screamed "No!" The scene then proceeded with the Duke's confiding his plan to the friar, and with the deputization of Angelo. As the Duke exited after transferring power to Angelo, he left his chair slightly askew. Angelo, alone on stage, turned the chair straight to the audience, telegraphing in a single movement the difference in how he would rule.

Posner is an enormously innovative director, and in this production, the creative use of 2/3 life-sized puppets was inspired. The Duke's friar [End Page 81] disguise was a puppet that bore a resemblance to the Duke, handled by the Duke himself. He manipulated the puppet just as he manipulated Angelo into enforcing the laws he himself could not enforce, as he manipulated Angelo into sleeping with Isabella, as he substituted Ragozine for Claudio, and as he set the stage for the undoing of both Angelo and Lucio. Several of the minor characters were also played by puppets and handled by Tony Nam and Todd Scofield. Each puppet had a distinct style and personality. Mistress Overdone had a cigarette dangling from her mouth, big red hair, and red breasts that seemed to spiral and bounce as if on springs. Constable Elbow, whose lines were always followed by a characteristic little chuckle, was pugnacious; in fact it took both puppet handlers to manage Elbow as he punctuated his lines with punches and jabs. Barnadine was red-faced with straggly hair. Puppets also served as the Mother Superior, the executioner, and the holy father who was the Duke's confidante. The arms of the puppets, designed by Aaron Cromie, rested on the arms of the actors so that the hands seemed to be a single unit. As the actors gesticulated with their arms, they made the puppets arms and bodies come to life.

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Figure 1.

David Marks (Pompey) and Todd Scofield (Elbow) in Folger Theatre's production of Measure for Measure. Photo by Carol Pratt.

Posner used surtitles flashed on a crooked board above the set to emphasize that the story, while riveting and dramatic, is also a parable. Some of the quotations were snippets from Shakespeare's text that captured the [End Page 82]

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Figure 2.

Mark Zeisler (Duke) in Folger Theatre's production of Measure for Measure. Photo by Carol Pratt.

[End Page 83]

essence of the scene: for example "A leavened and prepared choice" hung over the scene...


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