Monday, January 19, 2015

Actors' Shakespeare Project Presents "Measure For Measure" at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center through February 1

Shakespeare's play, "Measure for Measure" is seldom performed or produced.  One of the reasons why it lurks on the margins of the Shakespeare oeuvre is that it is considered by many to be a "problem play."  One of the problems is that the play is not easily categorized as either a comedy or a tragedy, since there are elements of both contained within the text.  The Actors' Shakespeare Project has chosen to tackle this play in part because it is a "problem play," in that it addresses problems that are timely for us.  Director Megan Sandberg-Zakian has chosen a contemporary interpretation of this play, with some actors using accents that could be heard on the streets of Revere or Chelsea, and some scenes playing out as if they were happening on a typical morning at Roxbury District Court.

This play treats with several relevant themes:

  • What is the nature of political power and how do people acquire and use it?
  • What happens when laws are enforced unfairly and unjustly? 
  • What role does hypocrisy plan in governance?
  • Who is qualified to interpret and enforce the laws of God?
 Isabella (Adrianna Mitchell), Angelo (Maurice Emmanuel Parent*)
Photos: Stratton McCrady Photography

The action of the play is set in Vienna, where the dissolute and dissipated Duke Vincentio (Michael Forden Walker)  decides to take some personal time to travel and to clear his head.  He has ruled in a very loose and laissez-faire manner.  When he hands the reins of power over to his law and order deputy, Angelo (Maurice Emmaneal Parent), the town is thrown into chaos as laws that were once

"more honored in the breach than observ'd," are now being assiduously and rigidly enforced.  Caught up in this web of enforcement is poor Claudio (Jared Michael Brown), who has had the misfortune to impregnate his girlfriend, Juliet (Lydia Barnett-Mulligan), an offense punishable by death. Throw in a few petty criminals, a friar or two, Isabella (Adrianna Mitchell), the distraught sister of Claudio, a sympathetic Provost (Sarah Newhouse) and a trash-talking braggard (Johnnie McQuarley),who unwittingly insults the Duke, and you have a recipe for much confusion and some merriment.

A key element of the plot is the hypocrisy of Angelo, intent on punishing by death Claudio for his lustful actions, while trying to seduce Isabella the novitiate who must choose whether to sacrifice her honor and virginity or allow her brother to be executed.  The Duke, having decided to play "Undercover Boss," disguises himself as a friar to see for himself what is happening in Vienna in his absence.  Shakespeare's usual bag of tricks are on display - clowns and fools, false identities and switches, betrayals, unlikely pairings.  The ensemble is terrific, with each actor playing more than one role, with the exception of Mr. Parent, Ms. Mitchell and Thomas Grenon as Escalus.  Mr. Parent is convincing as the tormented hypocrite, Angelo, as the actor portraying is his intended victim.  Ms. Mitchell's strength and grace as Isabella in her vulnerable state is powerfully portrayed.  Jared Brown has several characters to which he adds his considerable physical prowess, pretzeling himself into improbable shapes. He brings us to church as the handkerchief-wielding preacher who seems to be an odd mixture of Chris Rock and Al Sharpton! You get the picture.  Ms. Newhouse is a powerful presence as Provost and Mariana, and Ms. Barnett-Mulligan impresses in her multiple and very diverse roles.  This is serious Shakespeare with an ironic twist and some tongues in cheek.

This was my first visit to the performance space at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center with its wrought iron railings and gorgeous ceiling.  Sound Designer David Reiffel uses the hall's clear acoustics to full effect to create a soundscape that is magical.  An ingenious array of chains and pulleys in Megan F. Kinneen's Set allows for the creation of the effect of a jail cell. The overall effect is enhanced by Chris Bocchiaro's Lighting Design and Miranda Kau Giurleo's Costumes.

Lucio (Johnnie McQuarley*), Claudio (Jared Michael Brown),
Provost (Sarah Newhouse*)
Photos: Stratton McCrady Photography
The gifted ensemble under the strong direction of Ms. Sandberg-Zakian present this complex play in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

FYI - When you visit the Center in order to see the play, take advantage of the fact that across the hall from the performance space is an Art Gallery currently featuring a very impressive display:

The Subject of Women
Paintings by Cynthia Brody

Exhibition running through February 6, 2015

Take a trip to East Cambridge and be challenged by this play that mirrors concerns that we face today.

Through February 1st.



Jan 07, 2015 - Feb 01, 2015
Multicutural Arts Center
Cambridge, MA
by William Shakespeare
directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian
"Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall."
-Measure for Measure, II.1
Society is going to hell in a handbasket. Duke Vincentio figures the best way to rectify a bad situation is to remove himself and put the government into the hands of the one person who can restore order, Angelo. Big mistake. Angelo may not be as righteous as the laws he enforces. We learn he's sitting on some pretty wrongheaded lust when the one innocent who pleads to him for mercy on behalf of her brother suddenly becomes the object of his deep-seeded desire. Sex, prison, and power collide in a city on the edge, and a vaulted struggle begins.
Featuring ASP company members:
Johnnie McQuarley* (Lucio, Froth, Barnardine)
Sarah Newhouse* (Mistress Overdone, Provost, Mariana)
Maurice Emmanuel Parent* (Angelo)
Michael Forden Walker* (Duke Vincentio)
Additional cast:
Lydia Barnett-Mulligan (Juliet, Pompey, Angelo's Servant, Abhorson)
Jared Michael Brown (Claudio, Elbow, Gentleman, Client, Friar Peter)
Thomas Grenon (Escalus)
Adrianna Mitchell (Isabella)
Megan F. Kinneen (scenic)
Chris Bocchiaro (lights)
Miranda Kau Giurleo (costumes)
David Reiffel (sound)
Christine Hamel (vocal coach)
Student matinees at 10am on January 14, 15, 21, 22, 28 & 29
Post-show discussions each Sunday after 2pm matinee and all 10am student matinees.
Post-show discussion schedule:
January 11: Maurice Emmanuel Parent*
January 18: Sarah Newhouse*
January 25: Johnnie McQuarley*
February 1: Megan Sandberg-Zakian

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