Measure for Measure at Shakespeare Hill

Measure for Measure @ Shakespeare Hill

Aug 1, 2013 Posted by  In ArtsLifestyle Comments 2


By Peter Hall:

THE BASICS:  This dark early comedy by Shakespeare has been lightened up considerably by director Brian Cavanaugh who sets the play in the American Wild West complete with cowboy songs.  This is the second of two Shakespeare in Delaware Park offerings this summer (the first was Hamlet) and it runs Tuesdays through Sundays through August 18th.  The show runs 2 hours and 45 minutes with its single intermission.  No admission is charged but a voluntary collection is taken at intermission.  Food vendors are on site and clean porta-johns (and hand-washing sink!) are available, but outdoor temperatures may drop so bring a blanket or a jacket along with your folding chair.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Corrupt and lawless behavior in 1891 in the border town of Vienna, Texas has gotten completely out of hand.  In order to judge just how bad the situation is, Sheriff Vincentio makes a show of leaving town so that he may return in disguise.  In his absence he promotes the morally upright Angelo who immediately begins to enforce laws which have been ignored for decades.  Angelo closes the saloons and the brothels and then sentences young Claudio to death for fornication.  When Claudio’s devout sister begs forgiveness for her brother, Angelo abuses his power.  The play, suitable for anyone 12 and older, is completely contemporary with issues that still make headlines 410 years after its first performance in 1604.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:   The cast is very well balanced in this production, and even though the role of Angelo is usually given to the strongest actor (and here it’s the only Actor’s Equity member in the cast) Patrick Moltane’s performance is only one of many solid portrayals.  Angelo does require rock solid acting skills because he is the only character to travel a long arc of self-awareness.  The actor must, in the course of the play, transform from a morally rigid bureaucrat with ice water in his veins to a very hot blooded sexual predator and then partly back again to a new position somewhere in between.  As Mariana (Diane Curley), who loves Angelo despite his faults advises: “They say, best men are moulded out of faults, And, for the most, become much more the better, For being a little bad.”

The only other transformation involves the Sheriff, Vincentio (Matt Witten) who toggles back and forth between his character in disguise, a monk with a strong Irish brogue, and his real self (revealed to the audience and a few other characters).   It’s not subtle, but it’s not meant to be, and, for his part, whatever character he is for the moment, he stays in character, which can be tricky, as anyone who’s even tried to tell a dialect joke has discovered.

The only other character who might be transformed during the course of the action is Isabella (Susan Drozd)  the virtuous sister of the soon-to-be-executed Claudio (Bryan Zybala).  The actress is fine; it’s the role that’s the problem, and that role is one of the reasons that this so-called comedy is known as one of Shakespeare’s “Problem Plays.”  Six of Shakespeare’s plays have that designation (including “All’s Well That Ends Well” and “The Merchant of Venice”) either because of morally ambiguous behavior that isn’t completely right or wrong or simply because they are hard to classify as either comedy or tragedy.  I was told in college that “if it ends in a marriage, it’s a comedy and if it ends in a death, it’s a tragedy.  Period.”  Spoiler alert: nobody dies in “Measure for Measure” and the plays ends with at least one, maybe two marriages about to take place.  So this is a comedy.

And everyone on stage does a fine job of character acting and pulling the laughs out of this play.  Escalus (Steve Petersen) dispenses folksy wisdom (not ALL of the dialog is from the bard) such as “don’t squat with your spurs on” while the standard trio of “low” characters  Pompey (Ray Boucher), Froth (Todd Fuller), and Elbow (Geoff Pictor) do a good job of bringing 400 year old bawdy puns to our century.  (One wonders how the comedy of Robin Williams will fare in the year 2414.)  Another broad comic role is that of Lucio (Zak Ward) who plays a sleazy operator and he gets lots of laughs.

Some of the comedy is silent, and kudos go out to Maria Nicole Held and Maura Nolan who each have the double role of “Saloon Gal / Scene Change Goddess” in which they strut downstage holding large signs identifying where the next scene takes place (Saloon, Jail, Town Square, etc.) with appropriate facial expressions and body language, usually rather saucy.

The stage is well decorated, the costumes look authentic, and the incidental music, taken from what seemed like a variety of cowboy movies, sets the mood.  A number of the characters stop the action to sing cowboy songs, and, in general, the men seem to be better singers than the women, but they also wisely have other cast members sing back-up, which covers a multitude of vocal sins.  Unfortunately, the director did not extend this courtesy to the women, so that the first song we hear  – “Rose of San Antone” – belted out by the owner of the brothel, Mistress Overdone (Sheila Connors) strikes a sour note early in the play.  Later, again as a solo, Isabella (Susan Drozd) sings “Don’t Fence Me In” and it isn’t much better.  It would be very easy to add some female supporting voices and perhaps later showings will include this.

The shakespeare in delaware park Mission Statement is printed on the last page of the 32 page program guide (handed out as you arrive by younger actors in costume and in character) and this play certainly lives up to their mission.  For purists, you can always buy a ticket and drive 2-1/2 hours to Stratford, Ontario where “Measure For Measure” is on stage through September 28th (ten days after Shakespeare in Delaware Park closes).  My strong advice is to use this play to introduce young people over the age of 12 to theatre in general and Shakespeare in particular and then, on the way home, try to listen to their reactions.


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

Copyright 1999-2013 – The Buffalo News copyright-protected material.

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.”


Saul Elkin discusses our 38th Season on AM Buffalo

Five ways to enjoy a Buffalo summer

Five ways to enjoy a Buffalo summer

General views of the crowd and Shakespeare in the Delaware Park's performance of  Hamlet ,on Friday, June 21, 2013.{Photo by Harry Scull Jr. / Buffalo News}General views of the crowd and Shakespeare in the Delaware Park’s performance of Hamlet ,on Friday, June 21, 2013.{Photo by Harry Scull Jr. / Buffalo News}

By Jason Silverstein, News Staff Reporter. June 26, 2013 – 5:37 PM, updated June 27, 2013 at 11:08 AM

General views of the crowd and Shakespeare in the Delaware Park's performance of  Hamlet ,on Friday, June 21, 2013.{Photo by Harry Scull Jr. / Buffalo News}   General views of the crowd and Shakespeare in the Delaware Park's performance of  Hamlet ,on Friday, June 21, 2013.{Photo by Harry Scull Jr. / Buffalo News}  Jose Reyes signs autographs before a game against the Durham Bulls on Saturday, June 22, 2013.  (Matthew Masin/Buffalo News)
 Fans try to grab a foul ball during a game against the Durham Bulls on Saturday, June 22, 2013.  (Matthew Masin/Buffalo News)  Beautiful weather led to a sizable crowd, for the concert at Canalside in downtown Buffalo, Thursday, June 20, 2013. (Charles Lewis/Buffalo News)    { FOR JEWELL GEE STORY } Samantha Basile, 17, of Buffalo gives a little TLC to her goat Bigelow at the Erie County Fair on Thursday afternoon, Aug. 11, 2011.  {Photo by Derek Gee / Buffalo News}
Buffalo is certainly a city for all seasons.

Still, once our six or so months of cold and snow finally give way to sunshine and 70-degree days, it’s pretty clear that summer in Western New York is something special. Obvious as it sounds, then, it’s our duty to make the most of the summer while we have it.

Surely, you already have your own itinerary of trips, cookouts, bonfires and other outdoor activities that will take you right up to September. But there are a few major events that all true Buffalonians should fit into their season schedules – the time-honored traditions that are guaranteed to capture the best of Buffalo’s summer, every summer.

It’s not summer if you don’t do some of these things.

1. Go to Shakespeare in Delaware Park – twice

There’s no question of whether to be or not to be at Shakespeare in Delaware Park. It’s the second-largest Shakespeare festival in the country, with roughly 50,000 people lending their ears to free, first-rate Shakespeare productions every summer. It’s also the great equalizer of Buffalo theater, uniting the most diverse crowd of any local production, and there’s something beautiful about seeing such an assorted audience on the grass every night for the sake of Shakespeare. So why go twice? Simple: There are two plays every summer, and there is no reason to miss either of them. For the festival’s 38th season, you can revel in the madness and method of “Hamlet” (continuing through July 14), then return later in the summer for comic relief at “Measure for Measure” (July 25 through Aug. 18). Bring lawn chairs and wine, and see what all the ado is about. All shows start at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Visit for more information.

2. Take in a Bisons game

The Sabres dominate the first few months of the year, and in the fall, the Bills will be the talk of the town again. But over the summer, we have only the great American pastime, which is the ideal game for these balmy, breezy days. Even if you’re the kind of person whose baseball attention span can’t stretch past a few innings, spending an afternoon or evening in Coca-Cola Field (275 Washington St.) is an enjoyable and essential experience. Just buy some peanuts and Cracker Jack, throw in a hot dog or Labatt Blue and spend a few hours relaxing at one of the most laid-back sporting events Buffalo has to offer. Better yet, plan your visit for one of the Bisons’ many special events, whether it’s the traditional Independence Eve game (July 3), Pirate Festival Night (Aug. 24) or just any game that ends with fireworks (every Friday). To see the full schedule and purchase tickets, go to

3. Spend a Thursday at Canalside

We can complain about a lot of things in Western New York, but not having enough outdoor concerts should not be one of them. None brings the city together quite like Thursday at Canalside. The venue changed last year, and the name is new this year, but the 27-year tradition is the same as it ever was: Free concerts, downtown, every Thursday through Aug. 29. This summer’s series already featured the Hold Steady, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and R&B star Teddy Riley (who headlines tonight’s show), and the schedule only gets more eclectic from here, with concerts by Chicano rockers Los Lonely Boys (next Thursday), hardcore group Halestorm (Aug. 8) and classic rock star Todd Rundgren (Aug. 15). But for many Buffalonians, the music is secondary: Thousands of people show up and hang out every Thursday, regardless of who’s playing, just for the camaraderie. And now that the series moved to the scenic, spacious harbor – one of the best places to spend a summer night – Thursday at Canalside is truly a perfect complement to the season. All concerts run from 5 to 9:30 p.m. See the full lineup at

4. Do as much as possible at the Erie County Fair

Parades. Puppet shows. Magic shows. Laser shows. Animal shows and petting zoos. Historical demonstrations. An assortment of carnival games and activities. Demolition derbies. Dozens of food vendors. Concerts by Three Days Grace (Aug. 7), Sawyer Brown (Aug. 8) and the Eagles tribute band Hotel California (Aug. 9), among others. A chain saw artist, a hypnotist, a one-handed juggler and a “balloonologist.”

Are we forgetting something? Many things, surely. It’s hard to keep track of everything that’s scheduled for the Erie County Fair, which, perhaps needless to say, is one of the largest county fairs in America, drawing about 1 million patrons summer after summer. The fair, now in its 174th year, runs Aug. 7-18 at the Fairgrounds (5600 McKinley Parkway, Hamburg), and you could probably visit every day and still not see everything it offers. Our advice? Block out a day or two, and get in as much as you can. Savor your favorite fried foods, watch a few shows while you digest, exhaust yourself at some of the rides or competitive games and then relax at one of the concerts or demonstrations before heading out. Experiencing only a fraction of the fair’s festivities still makes for one of your busiest summer days. To browse the full schedule and purchase tickets for special events, go to

5. Pick a festival, any festival

Do you like things? Then Buffalo has a festival, or two, or maybe five that will catch your interest sometime this summer. Foodies can treat themselves to the Taste of Diversity and Strawberry Festival (both on Saturday), the Taste of Buffalo (July 13-14) or the National Buffalo Wing Festival (Aug. 31-Sept. 1). The city celebrates its ethnic diversity at the Lebanese Festival (July 26-28), Serbfest (July 27-28), the Buffalo Irish Festival (Aug. 23-25) and the Ukrainian American Day Festival (Aug. 25). You can immerse yourself in the city’s finest arts at the Buffalo Infringement Festival (July 25-Aug. 4), the Queen City Jazz Festival (July 27) and the Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts (Aug. 24-25). Obviously, this is just a partial list – we barely have the space here to list all the festivals for any given week, let alone the whole season. (But you can see our complete Festival Guide at Still, you get the idea: If it’s the kind of thing that can be celebrated, it will be celebrated, again and again, at the flurry of festivals found around Western New York. So pick a festival, any festival, and mingle with your fellow Buffaloians while the weather still permits it.



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