MEASURE FOR MEASURE by William Shakespeare, directed by Sue Miner, with Leanna Brodie, Michael Proudfoot, Adrian Griffin, Sanjay Talwar, Richard Alan Campbell, Kevin Hammond, Anthony Malarky, Cheryl McNamara, Jane Moffat and Julie Tepperman. Presented by Shakespeare in the Rough in Withrow Park (south of Danforth, between Logan and Carlaw). Previews July 27, opens July 28 and runs to September 3, Thursday-Friday at 7 pm (except August 9), matinees Friday-Sunday and holiday Mondays at 2 pm. Pwyc ($10 suggested). 416-588-7837 ext 4.
when i meet leanna brodie, she looks like a model waiting for a photo session, her intelligent face shining under a dark hat.It's early morning in Withrow Park. Kids are playing, a group of seniors is doing tai chi. Lots of dogs wander about, on and off leads.
And the glam-looking Brodie is talking about becoming a nun.
Brodie plays Isabella in Shakespeare's Measure For Measure, the eighth annual presentation by the adventurous company Shakespeare in the Rough.
About to enter a nunnery, the novice Isabella hears that her brother is to be executed for fornication. Pleading for mercy from the upright judge, Angelo, she's told that she can save her sibling -- if she gives herself to Angelo.
"Isabella moves from a world of women into a world of men, from the convent to the courthouse, the prison and the court," explains Brodie.
"Shakespeare needs an idealist who's confronted with an awful decision -- someone who won't make the choice that most of us would."
The character can be a hard one for today's audiences to understand, especially in a production set in this century. The Dora-nominated Sue Miner directs.
"It's hard to see her dilemma in a modern secular world," admits Brodie. "Isabella's not perfect, but I have to take her to a deeper and truer place than simply someone who says, "I don't like sex.'
"Anyway, you can't play someone who's defined that way."
Brodie stops her thought for a moment, watching a man walk two enormous, attention-grabbing black-and-white great Danes behind us.
Turns out to be dancer Rex Harrington, looking scruffy at 9 in the morning -- though Brodie would rather I describe him as sporty.
The daytime park environment is a key element in Shakespeare in the Rough's productions. Directors make use of the gently rolling landscape to present "offstage" scenes that inform the play's action.
This year, early evening performances have been added to the traditional weekend matinees.
Then, of course, there are the dogs who wander into a scene, the bugs that get caught in pages of the actors' scripts and the occasional noisy plane.
Isabella's quandary keeps Brodie's creative focus where it often is -- on how women fit into society. She's rehearsing Laurie Fyffe's The Malaysia Hotel for SummerWorks while performing Measure. A rare directorial outing, in 1992, was a turn-of-the-century British suffragette play called A Chat With Mrs. Chicky.
Last year Theatre Passe Muraille produced Brodie's own excellent script The Vic, a moving play about the bonding of a group of women in their search for a missing teen.
Thematically, says Brodie, it deals with power, cruelty and responsibility. Her next piece, For Home And Country, looks at the Women's Institutes, a worldwide association for rural women that has undergone changes since its founding at the turn of the century.
"The Vic is at the other end of the spectrum from Mrs. Chicky," notes the thoughtful Brodie, who in the course of the interview cites playwrights Colleen Curran and Tony Kushner, analytical author Robert Kaplan, Laban stage movement, Shakespeare scholar J. Dover Wilson and British actor Harriet Walter.
"Though both plays deal with the idea of community, Mrs. Chicky suggests that women could and should change the world. The characters in The Vic -- whose connection may be desperate and temporary but is also one of choice -- are part of the world and must operate within it."
She pauses to gather her ideas.
"The West Wing's Aaron Sorkin has been criticized for writing black characters who are too perfect, and I think that sometimes happens when the subject is a disempowered, disenfranchised group.
"I understand that caution, but I can't be part of it. We express our humanity and beauty in our imperfection, not without it."
2001 Measure For Measure; The Malaysia Hotel
2000 The Vic (author)
1999 Creep Crush
1996 My Father's House
1992 A Chat With Mrs. Chicky (director)