MEASURE FOR MEASURE by William Shakespeare, directed by Leon Rubin, with Jonathan Goad, Dana Green, Thom Marriott, Jeffrey Wetsch and Diane D'Aquila. Presented by the Stratford Festival at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford. Runs in rep to September 24. $68.25-$73. 1-800-567-1600. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
This season, Stratford's done its best work with the hardest shows. Take Measure For Measure , the thorny Shakespeare piece about a young nun-to-be, Isabella, who finds herself pleading for her brother Claudio's life before the rigidly moral Angelo. Things become complicated when she realizes that the judge is consumed with lust for her and will free Claudio only if Isabella gives herself to him.
The play is set in a decadent, licentious Vienna, which the ruling Duke (no stranger to the pleasures of the flesh himself, as we see in the opening scene of director Leon Rubin 's production) pretends to leave in order to observe, covertly, how the state functions in his absence. Putting the seemingly righteous Angelo in charge, the Duke disguises himself as a friar and becomes a plotter in the lives of the other characters.
Rubin's always been good at establishing the world of his Stratford productions (Pericles, A Midsummer Night's Dream), and here his company commits whole-heartedly to a dissolute and sometimes darkly comic environment - a police state, in fact - that grabs the audience's attention from the beginning.
The cast is mostly first-rate, even in the smaller roles. Too bad a chunk of the secondary plot has been cut, involving the bawds who are as corrupt as the rulers. There's fine dramatic work and admirable handling of the text by Diane D'Aquila , Andrew Massingham , Don Carrier and Shane Carty , among others.
At times, Rubin pushes a point too hard, as when he stages Angelo's lecherous vision of Isabella, but Jonathan Goad beautifully plays out the man's crumbling due to desires he never knew existed. Goad brings warmth to the role, not the cold passion that usually defines this conflicted character. Angelo's visibly caught between desire and remorse, hoisted between the spiritual and the physical.
The most memorable work in this production is Thom Marriott's as the Duke. In his hands, the man is many-sided: comic, intense, philosophical and manipulative, switching from one frame of mind to another with utter believability. Marriott's performance is a standout at this year's festival.
I wish the other key performers made as strong an impression. Jeffrey Wetsch brings little weight to Claudio, while Dana Green's Isabella can be vocally shrill and never gets much beyond the surface of the suffering woman. Too often, her performance stops with Isabella's verbal response to a situation, failing to convey the emotional journey that got her there.