- Measure for Measureby Fiasco Theater
The theater district in New York City used to be a section overrun with crime, but it has become a safe tourist destination in a matter of decades. In the 1990s, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani advocated for the enforcement of preexisting laws, in addition to introducing new ones, around Times Square, causing a controversial backlash as well as a complete renovation of its problematic reputation. In the beginning stages of an attempt to gentrify Vienna in Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure, Angelo also uses his temporary political position to curb criminal behavior. This process of redevelopment was the focal point of Fiasco Theater’s performance of the play, in which a doubled cast constantly rearranged six uniquely designed doors propped on sets of wheels to create different scenes. The cast’s responsibility for the barriers required the characters to play a direct role in the shaping of their consistently inconsistent stage, and by implication of their society, too. In this way, the performance replicated the complexities of Times Square, that classic yet commodified location in New York City, and of the past that haunts it.
As they moved the doors about the stage, the characters in Fiasco’s Measurebecame complicit with the new jarring reality in which their personal lives were scrutinized by authority. Although most of them openly disagreed with the new social arrangements of Angelo’s regime, they each actively provided the space and props for those in charge of religious and legal organizations to use. The cast literally prepared the stage for their own exploitation. Their compliance with socially enforced religious expectations automatically strengthened the interconnected social systems that helped keep them in place. At the same time, though, those in religious [End Page 174]and legal power positions like the Duke and Angelo helped assemble places like the onstage whorehouse, a point that highlighted their accountability for the existence of immoral or unlawful structures. The way the city was designed and managed was affected by the juxtaposition of these colliding forces.
Representing this world on an American stage in the twenty-first century not only implies the continued relevance of socio-sexual debates dating back even before the Renaissance, but also evokes the current public skepticism toward the manipulation of laws and systems for religious purposes. In both past and present cultures, people find ways creatively to rebel against these hegemonic norms. Citizens taking advantage of loopholes in the systems, whether by seducing a Deputy in Renaissance Europe as Claudio encourages his sister to do or by moving to another state for a same-sex marriage in contemporary America, contest the role of political authority. Fiasco’s representation of Vienna’s citizens as avoiding, rather than complying, with the law emphasized the visual and legal manipulation that takes place during the process of gentrification, and also drew attention to the unchanging ways in which cities become gentrified.
With no one, including the Duke (here a Giuliani figure), truly abiding by moral and social laws, the intentions of these characters did not always match their professional facades. The production honed in on these types of multiple identities by having each actor play two characters with contradictory livelihoods but strangely similar situations (Fig. 12). This overlapping emulated the Duke’s role in Measure for Measure: his investigation of the Viennese underworld by means of dressing up as a friar was mimicked by the rest of the cast as they performed as other doubled characters. While a shawl was the only thing the Duke needed to look like a friar, Emily Young wore the same dress for both of her characters, adding a white bib-shaped cloth to cover her chest as Isabella and removing it to expose a brightly colored...