- Measure for Measure dir. by Brian Isaac Phillips
The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's May 2013 Measure for Measure, directed by Producing Artistic Director Brian Isaac Phillips, opened with an extra-textual scene in Mistress Overdone's "house of resort" (cf. 1.2.82). The scene initiated the production's contrast between Angelo (Brent Vimtrup) and the Duke (Nicholas Rose) in advance of their first, very formal exchange and paved the way for their differently disturbing interactions with Isabella (Kelly Mengelkoch). The trio of strong performances in these roles took advantage of the play's moral and emotional complications, contributing to a fairly dark production that embraced its ambiguities. The jazz soundtrack and the flapper dresses and finger waves of Mistress Overdone's clientele established a Roaring Twenties, Prohibition-era setting, but the rollicking atmosphere of the show's first few moments was soon overturned by the court characters. The most prominent features of the minimalist set designed by Andrew J. Hungerford were a central door upstage and a series of tall, barred partitions that reconfigured the space to suggest a range of locations—speakeasy, ducal court, courtroom, and prison—and visually implied similarities between the different locales. Yet this malleable set and the insertion of court characters into the seamier side of Vienna did not integrate the play's disparate worlds, linking or strongly paralleling the concerns of speakeasy and governing bureaucracy. Rather, the opening scene immediately suggested the ways that the more emotionally intense moments of the play would outshine its comedic scenes.
As the performance began, the Duke and his gentleman aid Varrius (Charlie Cromer) were seated together amidst alcohol consumption and casual hookups. Their kiss revealed a relationship that at first served to associate them with the transgressive atmosphere. The Duke's relationship with Varrius remained an underlying complication throughout the production, coloring Lucio's accounts of the Duke as "woodman" (4.3.152), his proposal to Isabella, and his attitude toward the laws he commissions Angelo to enforce. Angelo's sudden interruption of the Duke's night out at the head of a police raid suggested conflict between the two from the outset. As the Duke retreated and cops swarmed across the stage, Angelo read the Eighteenth (Prohibition) Amendment loudly from his clipboard. Whether Angelo saw the Duke or not remained ambiguous. Regardless, [End Page 140] this near encounter set up the production's comparison of the two characters and the extent to which they revealed or concealed themselves.
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Nicholas Rose's Duke was a consummate politician whose practiced façade seemed rarely—if ever—to slip. His hearty voice and jaunty style, coat swinging from his shoulders like a cape, disappeared when he became a friar with an Eastern European accent, but his sheer enjoyment of plotting and manipulation remained. His exchanges with Varrius seemed another layer of complication and self-gratification, rather than a glimpse behind the mask at a psychological motivation for his disguise. During the question and answer session following the performance, Rose described the Duke as "sociopathic," with no sense of how his machinations hurt others. Tellingly, the Duke's façade cracked most during his exchanges with Lucio (Billy Chase), as he responded to jovial yet pointed personal criticisms. His irritated...