A couple of weeks back, Lisa and I caught Kingsmen Shakespeare Love’s Labor’s Lost on its final weekend, so I really didn’t get to properly give it a push (or rather give readers a push to go see it). Well, it’s happened again: this time we caught Independent Shakespeare Company’s always FREE production of Measure for Measure this past Thursday. And it closed last night.
I would have loved to write about it for Saturday’s blog (then at least people could still catch one of two remaining performances), but for some reason, I couldn’t wrap my head around the experience (seriously).
The show, directed by one of the co-founders Melissa Chalsma, and starring the other co-founder, husband of Melissa, and a director himself (he’s got The Two Gentlemen of Verona coming up this week), David Melville, is unwieldy beast, just like the play itself. And I mean that in a good way.
Broadly comic. Bawdy. But. Also. Disturbing. Disarmingly prescient.
And because of those last two: Prone to stultifying overly serious (or worse, reverent) presentation.
But thankfully, not here.
Chalsma pushes the play toward the wild, the only (for my mind [in July of 2017] at least) direction to take it without it becoming the aforementioned stultifying. The play opens with announcements by Pompey and Mistress Overdone (Lorenzo Gonzalez and a wonderfully drag Xavi Moreno), and a lip-synch dance. And it puts the audience in the right space, for both the tone of the piece and the amount of direct address IndyShakes is known for.
I know some folks that would bristle at this (but most of them are too serious to begin with), and honestly I felt there was more audience interaction in this production than I’ve seen before, but–and this is a crucial “but”–the world of the play Chalsma has created here needs it, hell, demands it. It’s the theatrical equivalent of having someone take you by the lapels, pulling you close, then whispering in your ear, “You’re mine,” planting a wet one on your forehead, spinning your around, slapping your ass, and sending you on your way.
With modern dress (kinda, save for monks’ cloaks) and a wonderfully evocative set, filled with doors, windows, and shutters (which for me gave off a feeling of transiency, of movement), this is a play that she wants us to relate to, not look at like some museum piece. Thus, some of the comic business that brings the play into our world (brothels with loyalty programs [you get the tenth one free], the now-executioner’s-assistant Pompey’s replacement of the laundry list of imprisoned low-lifes with [barely] disguised references to current political figures, and a reveal of the Duke that’s straight out of CSI: Miami).
It’s a tough play, like I’ve said. Play the conflict and situation between Angelo and Isabella too seriously, and you condemn the play to uber-reverence which makes the bawdy bits feel overdone (no pun) and out of place. Maybe I’ll see a production that can walk the tightrope between the two extremes, but that’ll have to be one hell of a production. In the meantime, I’ll take this (s)extreme, and let Chalsma and her more-than-solid cast plant a wet one on me, and smack me on the way out of Griffith Park.
[note: I caught a Thursday night performance…I highly recommend the weeknight performances, which allow for more leg room, parking, and time to get situated…those weekend performances are feeling the pangs of success, with huge crowds…]