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

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 shakespeareindelawarepark.org 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 milb.com.

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 buffaloplace.com/thursday.

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 ecfair.org.

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 buffalonews.com). 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.

 

email: jsilverstein@buffnews.com

What do Baseball & Shakespeare have in Common? A Baseball Fan’s review of Hamlet

Durham Bulls lose third straight to Buffalo Bisons: A day at the beach

Posted by  on Monday, June 24, 2013 · 1 Comment

ShakesDelPark

There are sentences you can’t imagine ever writing. Here is one: I got a sunburn in Buffalo.

The Bulls and Bisons played scoreless baseball for 13 1/2 innings Sunday afternoon before Buffalo finally won, 1-0, in the bottom of the fourteenth inning. As is often the case in games like this one, it came down to an error. Durham reliever Juan Sandoval allowed a leadoff double to Mike Nickeas in the bottom of the fourteenth. The next batter sacrificed, and Sandoval threw the ball away. Nickeas scored. Four long, hot hours of baseball were resolved in seconds.

As it happens, the Tampa Bay Rays’ Double-A affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits, also lost on Sunday in fourteen innings. Actually, it was Monday by the time they lost. The time it took to play the game, four hours and fifty-six minutes, set a franchise record. This was a healthy reminder that while Bull City Summer may be unique, the Bulls are not. This is baseball, and although it offers up all kinds of novelties on a daily basis, a fourteen-inning game isn’t really one of them. The team right below Durham in the Rays’ farm system outdid them in everything but futility: the Biscuits scored three runs in their fourteen innings; the Bulls scored none in theirs.

The ballpark in Buffalo, Coca-Cola Field, draws not only thousands of fans to every game but also hundreds of sea gulls. They wheel and cruise in the air, crowd patches of airspace, and sometimes land on the outfield grass. Back in 2006, Durham Bulls relief pitcher Jason Childers nailed a gull with a pitch. The play was ruled dead, but the sea gull lived. You gotta be a tough bird to make it in Buffalo.

What ails the Bulls is simple: they can’t hit right now. You can blame the loss of Wil Myers to the majors and its effect on the rest of the lineup; you can note that the Bulls are last in the league in home runs and, alarmingly, that the departed Myers hit fourteen of the team’s fifty-four homers; or you can call it just another one of those dips that befalls every team over the course of a season. But whatever it is, the result is that the Bulls just lost three games they would probably have won with Myers in the lineup.

A double shame, this, because they’ve gotten very good pitching, especially from their starters. Jake Odorizzi did more than his part yesterday, making his first start since returning from pitching very well for the Rays in a cozy Boston venue called Fenway Park. Still basking in that mojo, he did nothing less than throw the best game by a Bulls starter all season. Odorizzi went eight innings on only ninety-one pitches, allowed two measly hits and one walk, struck out six batters, and made some nifty plays in the field. After the game, he joked that he “got PFP work in for myself”: he was referring to “pitchers’ fielding practice,” which he took right during the game by handling numerous chances on the mound and at first base, some of them tricky ones. Odorizzi fields his position very well.

There was nothing especially magical about Odorizzi’s performance. It was just totally professional and superbly composed—smooth would be the best word to describe it. He commanded all of his pitches, moved the ball up and down, in and out, and pitched with quick, efficient purpose and big-league savvy. He told me there was nothing specific that he took back to Triple-A with him from the majors, but that the success he had there, and the general rubbing-off on him of the major-league environment, gave  him “extra confidence coming back down.”

Odorizzi had been gone from the game for nearly two hours by the time it ended. “Did you pitch today?” one of his teammates jokingly asked him when I approached Odorizzi for an interview. His work was long forgotten after Josh Lueke, just down from the majors himself, and Kirby Yates each worked two innings, deep into extras. I coined a phrase a few years ago, “extraneous innings,” to describe games that go on far too long after their sell-by date, but this was not one of them. Neither team had scored, nor even much threatened—they put multiple runners on base in an inning just three times between them—and both were still using rested relievers in the fourteenth inning. The game took nearly an hour less to play than the Montgomery Biscuits’ fourteen-inning loss later on.

Still, it certainly didn’t feel short. By around the eleventh inning, with the gulls calling out and the sun barely budging from its place over the first-base side of the stadium, beating down forcefully on the stands, it felt like one of those days at the beach when you lie out on a towel for so long that you no longer have the energy or will to get up and go inside. The scoreless half-innings went by like waves expiring one by one on the shore of the afternoon, each virtually indistinguishable from the one before it. The crawl on the right-field display was scrolling major-league scores, but it stopped updating somewhere in the early innings, showing the same heat-lamp numbers all afternoon. Time stood still. You wanted someone to bring you a cold drink. You splayed out over multiple seats like they were a giant beach blanket.

Finally, when Sandoval threw away Ricardo Nanita’s sacrifice and Nickeas scored, it was like the kids finally coming in from the water. It’s what time? Time for dinner? Wasn’t it just lunch? Alright, then.

For the last couple of days, I’ve been writing about how hard it seems to be to win on the road, and wondering why exactly that should be the case. Yesterday added another potential explanation: playing on the road has that vacationing quality to it. The players would disagree, I’m sure, but there’s no getting past the difference away from Durham. The Bulls live out of hotel rooms. There’s no family around for all but two or three of the guys who brought their girlfriends on the road with them. Whatever routines they may have developed in Durham can’t be done here. They wake up in the hotel, find food, go back to the hotel, go play baseball, come back to the hotel, sit in the hotel bar, go to sleep in the hotel. It’s an idyll, of sorts. Sunday’s beachy weather brought that home. No wonder it’s harder to bear down and win. Home is where work is, and it’s hard to bring your work with you when you travel.

I have a good deal more to say, largely because I went to Shakespeare in Delaware Park‘s satisfying, enjoyable (and free!) production of Hamlet after the game. (From a day at the beach to a night in the park.) You can apply Shakespeare’s “poem unlimited,” as Harold Bloom called it, drawing the title from one of the play’s lines, to just about anything. That includes baseball, and you’ve been warned: I’ll be back with more about that connection later. For now, I’ll leave you with this: In Act III, Scene Three, Hamlet happens and eavesdrops upon Claudius, who is unburdening himself of a repentant monologue (“O, my offense is rank! It smells to heav’n!”). Hamlet, in an aside, thinks of killing Claudius, but then decides against it: to murder the corrupt king in his penitent moment would likely send him to heaven, and Hamlet wants Claudius die while committing more sin so that he will suffer eternally.

So Hamlet sheathes his sword. This is the moment when the game of Hamlet goes to extra innings; a clean killing of Claudius here would end things in regulation. Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play. Even the trimmed down Delaware Park version came in at three hours, but there was nothing at all extraneous about these innings. The scenes after Hamlet forbears killing Claudius are the ones that establish the play’s full weight and wonder, its status as a “poem unlimited.” Extra innings do not always mean a failure to settle the outcome with due dispatch. Sometimes they are where the eventual decision gets its richness, and even its meaning.

As Polonius tells us, though he doesn’t heed his own advice, brevity is the soul of wit. Goodnight, sweet readers: And flights of sea gulls sing thee to thy rest!

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