Archive for July, 2013

A country twang obscures Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s ‘Measure for Measure’

From left, Matt Witten as Duke, Patrick Moltane as Angelo and Steve Petersen as Escalus at Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s production of “Measure For Measure.” Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News
A country twang obscures Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s ‘Measure for Measure’

BY: Ted HadleyPublished: July 26, 2013, 05:17 PM, Updated: July 27, 2013, 01:14 AM
William Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” written in 1604 but never published in his lifetime, usually falls in his “dark comedies” category (along with “Troilus and Cressida” and “All’s Well That Ends Well”), but mostly it’s called a “problem play.” Maligned for centuries for its ridiculous plot, one that pursues distasteful topics – although sex, church and state can get your attention – it then tosses them off in a hasty and contrived conclusion. Most theater companies are content to leave the work on the shelf.But not Saul Elkin’s Shakespeare in Delaware Park. “Measure” has just opened a several-week run, the second and last play of its 38th season. Brian Cavanagh directs a willing cast, all eager to make sense out of this circuitous tale of justice, mercy and forgiveness mixed with what theater historians call “sexual unease.” The story – the original version – is this: The Duke of Vienna is dismayed with the behavior of his townsfolk. Crime is rampant. Whores and pimps rule the streets. The place is in moral decay. The Duke, dismissing his own lax leadership in all this, takes a break and leaves his post in the hands of his Puritanical deputy, Angelo.

Mistake. Iron-fisted Angelo – a guy who would “scarce confess that his blood flows” – enforces some long-neglected laws. One of them is sure to cause havoc: an anti-fornication statute. Any hanky-panky before marriage was to be punishable by death.

Young Claudio gets pretty Juliet “in trouble” and thus he’s arrested, jailed and sentenced to die in a blink. Angelo, in colorful terms, cites that Claudio has been “groping for trout, in a peculiar river.” The lad’s sister, Isabella, novice nun, is recruited to plea to Angelo for Claudio’s life. Angelo says he’ll change his mind only if Isabella sleeps with him and this causes multiplots to unfold including the old Elizabethan “bed trick,” Angelo duped, comeuppance achieved, marriages all-around, happy endings of a sort, peace restored.

The Duke, by the way, never really left town. Disguising himself as a monk, he watched goings-on from the shadows (a busybody, Lucio, called him “The Duke of Dark Corners”). And it is he who is behind all the deal-making, recognizing hypocrisy gone amok, chuckling and charading and watching people squirm at their plights. It’s no wonder that The Duke has been reviled by “Measure” audiences.

Well, all of this has been transferred by director Cavanagh to the gun-totin,’ g-droppin’ town of Vienna, Texas, with its saloon, livery stable and general store. The Duke is now The Sheriff. The story is the same, though punctuated with sagebrush philosophy and “Blazing Saddles” humor, and there are country songs, too. Loner Angelo, for example, explains himself on “My Rifle, My Pony and Me.” Isabella, distraught, warbles “Don’t Fence Me In.” These are inspired Cavanagh moments. “Measure” could use more of them. The cast does its best with all of this: Matt Witten is Duke/Sheriff; Ray Boucher provides much fun as streetwise Pompey; Susan Drozd is lovely Isabella; Patrick Moltane, a conflicted Angelo. Plus Steve Petersen, Brian Zybala, Sheila Connors, Todd Fuller, Larry Smith, Geoff Pictor, Diane Curley and Zak Ward, excellent as conniver Lucio.

Director Cavanagh has said that “Measure for Measure” “doesn’t have a lot to it.” Not true. A sarcastic, maybe bitter Shakespeare has a lot to say about some serious topics and there are some beautiful passages. You’ll have to listen carefully to hear them amid drawl and twang. The play always needs to be tweaked, updated and adapted. But not damaged.

Norrie Epstein, a Bard researcher, once wrote that “With the possible exception of Jesus, Shakespeare has caused more foolishness and brilliance than any other human being.” Unfortunately, this cowpoke “Measure for Measure” is top-heavy on the former.

Ted Hadley

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Shakespeare in Delaware Park turns ‘Measure for Measure’ into a musical western

Putting a fun spin on Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure’

Matt Witten as Duke at Shakespeare at Delaware Park's production of Measure For Measure during dress rehearsal on Sunday, July 21, 2013.  (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)Matt Witten as Duke at Shakespeare at Delaware Park’s production of Measure For Measure during dress rehearsal on Sunday, July 21, 2013. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

By Colin Dabkowski | News Arts Critic | @colindabkowski | Google+

on July 25, 2013 – 12:01 AM, updated July 25, 2013 at 12:29 AM

Tonight, Shakespeare in Delaware Park will open its second show of the 2013 season with a cheeky, musically inflected take on Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure.”

Unlike its popular and straight-ahead run of “Hamlet,” which was as faithful as possible to Shakespeare’s setting and most of his text, this historically troublesome comedy will stray much further in time and place: all the way from Vienna, Austria, to the lawless border town of Vienna, Texas.

Director Brian Cavanagh, who helmed a fast-paced and engrossing production of “The Merchant of Venice” in 2011 and has long served as SDP’s lighting designer, decided to have a little fun with the play after reading through the difficult and sometimes plodding text.

“I don’t think there’s an unbelievable story here. It’s a good story, but it’s not Hamlet, it’s not MacB,” he said, following the theatrical superstition that you don’t say the name of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” in the vicinity of a theater. “It’s kind of a light story told in a hard way. So I said I want to keep all the basic story so people understand why we’re there, but all around the edges we should make it interesting so people understand and we can keep them entertained all through it.”

To that end, Cavanagh tightened up some of the language and some extraneous bits and pieces of exposition and dialogue. He’s added in some cowboy slang and lingo to place the play firmly in its new Wild West context. And, perhaps most significantly, he’s added six musical numbers to the show in order to amplify the Wild West mood.

The songs, like a version of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” will serve as accents to the action rather than plot elements, and they’re not meant to be big production numbers. Few of the cast members are trained musical theater performers, Cavanagh added, which works for the sort of tossed-off nature of the songs.

“It’s kind of a comic relief in between scenes, and all of them are Western songs, either just Americana songs or from Western movies,” he said. “There really is no rhyme or reason, I just thought they fit.”

The play, in Cavanagh’s version, tells the story of a sheriff (Matt Witten) who hightails it out of his corruption-ridden town and leaves control to his deputy (Patrick Moltane). The deputy, who is law-abiding to a fault and ignores the advice of his wise old confidant Escalus (Peter Peterson), sentences the otherwise law-abiding citizen Claudio to death for getting his fiancee pregnant before they tied the knot. Claudio’s sister, the nun-in-training Isabella (Susan Drozd), cannot convince the deputy to relent. Fortunately for all involved, the duke returns to town disguised as a friar, and helps devise a scheme by which the deputy is forced to release Claudio from his death sentence.

After Cavanagh read through the play a few times at the request of SDP founder and director Saul Elkin – a grueling endeavor, he said – he decided a fun and rather radical treatment was the right approach.

“When I hit Saul up with that, about it being a Western, he said, ‘Are you sure about this?’ And I said, ‘Well, no, but I think it’s an interesting way to go,’ ” Cavanagh said. “When I finally got through it many times, I thought, I can see it’s kind of laborious, it’s kind of long and draggy for not a very big ending.

“Everything gets a little sinister and heavy and then at the end everybody’s let off and everybody’s happy. It doesn’t have a lot to it, I don’t think. So that’s why I made some changes.”

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

Saul Elkin discusses our 38th Season on AM Buffalo

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