- Measure for Measuredir. by J. Clark Nicholson and Fontaine Syer
Of all the moments in Shakespeare's plays, I am most curious about the original staging of Isabella's reaction to the Duke's proposals at the end of Measure for Measure. She says nothing, of course—though her penultimate line, an answer to another of the Duke's prompts, may be telling: "I do, my lord" (5.1.391). Still, we simply don't know whether she will accept the Duke or not, or how, or why. Her decision, if indeed she makes one, comes from the artists who animate the script as much as [End Page 122]and perhaps more than any other performance choice in the canon. Two Pennsylvania-based companies presented the play during the summer of 2013, each with a distinct staging of the ending.
The Harrisburg Shakespeare Company of Gamut Theatre Group gave an open-air rendition of the problem comedy, concentrating on the comedy rather than the problem. Charging nothing for tickets and targeting a diverse audience, with plenty of good gimmicks for gut laughs, Gamut unfortunately undercut its own crowd-pleasing strengths with over-reaching humor and some confusing conceptual framing, though the company could certainly not be faulted for lack of bravery.
Indeed, regarding setting, Gamut boldly went where one wonders if anyone else has gone before, taking the play not only back to Ferrara, but forward to the future. In the program, dramaturg Kate Powers expressed her desire to "clean [Thomas] Middleton's fingerprints off the play" by restoring the original setting along with other supposedly Shakespearean material. Her ambition was admirable, but her claim that the pre-Middleton text "hasn't seen the candlelight, the limelight or the fresnel light in more than 390 years" was more catchy than correct, as readers of this journal will know from Trish Thomas Henley's recent review of Hoosier Bard's back-to-back stagings of the Ferrara and Vienna versions of Measure(see SB31:3, 499-505).
In Harrisburg, scenic designer Ian Potter accented an angular, marble set with gold trim, red brick, and graffiti exhorting us to "Vote 2046." Costume designer LA Hammond's brightly colored and bizarrely shaped and textured garments came across as a combination of the Jetsonsand Star Trek. Some outfits, such as the Ferraran security guards' grey jumpsuits, looked sharp. Others, like Lucio's loud red threads, just looked goofy. The sci-fi environment did not detract or distract too much overall, but I wondered what it brought to the text. Director J. Clark Nicholson explained in a personal email that in Measurehe "saw a world that had continued our current socio/political trajectory and more completely divided on economic lines" and "that had also become more reactionary in terms [of ] official legislation concerning morality." I admire the vision, but I remain concerned about how clearly...