Measure For Measure - A Twofer & Nun NicerThursday, July 11, 2013
Yesterday evening my wife Rosemary and I attended the opening of Bard on the Beach’s production of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.
For those who read Harold Bloom on Shakespeare or do some digging around before seeing a Shakespeare play you might then know that the title of this complex play comes from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Saint Matthew wrote in 7.2 of the King James Version
For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
Saint Luke, the physician, was a tad more poetic in 6.38:
Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.
Before yesterday’s performance, Bard on the Beach Artistic Director Christopher Gaze stood up on a platform and gave his own version of the Sermon on the Mount (not really!) and explained briefly (the talks are called In a Nutshell) the mechanics of Measure for Measure. For those new into Shakespeare, these little talks are wonderful. And if not new suffice to note here that Gaze could read a shopping list and make it sound like Shakespeare.
Scholars including Gaze call this play one of Shakespeare’s Problem Plays because of their complexity. While Measure for Measure is indeed a comedy and very funny in many parts the idea of a man (my take) The Duke, played by Andrew Wheeler at his most Hestonian Moses mode, playing God with his subjects is not all that funny.
It is for that reason that I consider this Bard on the Beach production of Measure for Measure a twofer. For the price of one admission ticket you get two plays. One is a serious intellectual pursuit that will set you thinking and the other an extremely funny, lively musical in which Lois Anderson is the Queen of the Night.
Actor and Director (so many of Bard players are both and not only that many are also musicians) John Murphy has a love for jazz so he switched Shakespeare’s location for the play from Vienna to New Orleans and with Anthony Pavlic he composed music influenced by blues and Dixieland. One song which Murphy told me is simply called Isabella’s Song (sung by Isabella, Sereana Malani) is a killer song which I would have sworn was a long lost Gershwin. What helped Isabella’s Song and every entry of Searana Malani to the set, were the two costumes (one white, one pink) designed by Costume Designer Mara Gottler who would make of us all as Angelo says:
Never could the strumpet
With all her double vigour, art and nature,
Once stir my temper: but this virtuous maid
Subdues me quite.
The musicians in this production are also actors or perhaps you might want to reverse that. Anton Lipovesky, Lucio, (a composer in his own right) played a mean banjo, Benjamin Elliott, Froth/Bernardine, was great sitting or standing on the upright piano and not bad with the accordion (I hate this instrument). It was nice to see Dustin Freeland on a tuba (how often do you get to hear this instrument in a small ensemble?), Chris Cochrane on clarinet and Luc Roderique (who plays the soon to lose his head Claudio, was pretty good on the snare drum and playing it while standing.
But the star of the band has to be Bonnie Northgraves on trumpet. With my eyes closed (when was not distracted by her thighs and fishnets) she sounded like Herb Albert channeling a trumpet player from the Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. Northgraves in combination with the whorish shenanigans of an over-the-top Lois Anderson playing Mistress Overdone was enough to help me remember that I was watching a comedy and not the tragedy that this play almost is.
To add to this fun was the impervious-to-anything Dustin Freeland who plays the Provost, fine foil to the-about-to-burst-red-in-the-face-cop Elbow, Chris Cochrane and, most certainly, David Marr who in this year’s Arts Club Theatre production of My Turquoise Years proved that he was not only a very serious actor, but a funny one, too. I always thought that David Mackay who plays Angelo (has a preference for novices in sex, the character, not the actor) was the funny man and Marr the serious one. Have they made a pact to switch career paths?
I can never get enough of Bernard Cuffling playing a not-yet-winged angel. In Measure for Measure he portrays the sympathy of an angel. He may be the only actor on stage that may truly believe the words of Matthew in that Sermon on the Mount:
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness
shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and
Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
So then, it is clear that Christ is not speaking about imputed righteousness in verse 20. Rather, He is teaching us that if we are to enter the kingdom of God, This means that we must obey the Word of God more than the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees were scrupulous in tithing, for example, and the Lord commended them for doing so. But at the same time, He charged them for ignoring the weightier matters of the Law: judgement, mercy, faith, and love of God (Mt 23:23; Lk 11:42). And that is precisely (my take) on Andrew Wheeler’s performance as the Duke. Both he and Escalus, Bernard Cuffling tries to find a way out of the conundrum of how to not execute the hapless Claudio.
It is here, after having see Bernard Cuffling in one of the last acts appear before The Duke wearing a beautiful white tutu and wondering why throughout the play the cast randomly wears costumes and masks.
Bard on the Beach publicist, Cynnamon Schreinert (as efficient as she is) answered my query, most kindly, about Cuffling’s skirt that there was a reference to all hallow’s even in the beginning of the play. She could have been less patient and simply told me to read the extensive notes of the excellent Bard On the Beach programme.
This is it and it happens in Act II, Scene I:
Sir, but you shall come to it, by your honour's
leave. And, I beseech you, look into Master Froth
here, sir; a man of four-score pound a year; whose
father died at Hallowmas: was't not at Hallowmas,
Director John Murphy put the play in New Orleans. Costume Designer, Mara Gottler, with a keen, not entirely justified (and who would care?) leap and perhaps in cahoots with Murphy had the events of the play happen around and during the evening of Halloween. This gave her a nice excuse to design costumes that went from over the top to serious and that constant shift added to my pleasure of the two plays that the one play is. Measure for Measure entertained me and it made me laugh. On the serious side I felt I went home with lots to digest. The best of both worlds indeed was both.