It’s Shakespeare like you’ve never seen before. Texas State’s “Measure for Measure,” which runs from Feb. 11 through Feb. 16 in the Patti Strickel Harrison Theatre, is a modern twist on the Shakespearean classic — complete with technicolor lighting, iPhones and an energetic dance number to Lizzo’s “Heaven Help Me.”
Directed by professor Chuck Ney, “Measure for Measure” takes place in the midst of an intense chastity conflict in Vienna, Italy. Duke Vincentio (Jeremiah Porter) temporarily relinquishes his power to Lord Angelo (Christopher Thomas Frey), who continues to enlist the bureaucratic help of the Duke’s second hand Escalus (Mo Amalbert).
When it comes to the rampat adultery occurring throughout the city, Angelo wants to use his new power to rigidly enforce traditional values and rules on the citizens, yet finds himself giving into the same unholy desires he’s trying to expose and rid.
Amongst the political and moral pollution, aspiring nun Isabella (Aubrey Clyburn) finds herself grief-stricken upon learning of her brother Claudio’s (Joey Herrera) promiscuity, which has led to his conviction and subsequent death sentence. Isabella seeks help from Angelo, meeting a myriad of characters along the way: Lucio (Hunter Ginn), a charming and gossipping young man about town; Mariana (Amber Mawande-Spytek), the headstrong but broken ex-fiancée of Angelo; and the mysterious Friar Lodowick (Jeremiah Porter), a priest who vows to help her on her mission.
Through Isabella’s journey, she finds herself dealing with one of the hard-hitting and uncomfortable complications of the show: sexual assault.
“I think one of the things this play is about is forgiveness, and it raises questions of how, or when, or whether forgiveness should be reached,” Clyburn said. “I hope it will inspire people to consider the issue of sexual assault outside of the container of fiction, and I hope people will leave thinking about how complicated sexual assault cases can be, both emotionally and in how they are often handled.”
In the era of #MeToo and #BelieveWomen, this show— despite being over 400 years old— couldn’t be more relevant and significant.
“It’s heartbreaking because even though the lens of verse, the situation Isabella finds herself in with Angelo is so recognizable,” Clyburn said. “The power dynamics; the guilt and the shame; the struggle first to speak up and then to be believed — none of that is stuck in the past.”
Despite Angelo’s obvious shortcomings, Frey felt it was essential to explore his character from a humanistic perspective.
“It was hugely important for me as an actor to find a way to find empathy for Angelo,” Frey said. “His actions are reprehensible, but there is a human under those actions with hopes, desires and fears like anyone else. I viewed it as my duty to be an advocate for Angelo, not to justify his actions, but to figure out what drives him to do what he does.”
While the cast have worked diligently to (successfully) translate these complex Shakespearean characters into the present-day, there’s one thing that ties it all together: the ambience of the set. Contemporary costumes give the audience a sense of relatability, while intricate set pieces transform the stage into a glowing cathedral, or a metal-clad prison.
“Because of the way Chuck has cut this script, it’s become one of the most clear depictions of Shakespeare I’ve seen,” Porter said. “The lighting and sound designer really created a vibrant and radiant stage mixed with contemporary music that kept the rhythm of the show, two things that aren’t always seen in the world of a classic Shakespeare. They created a beautiful world for us to play in and for that I am so grateful.”
The stellar performances from the cast break down any potential language barriers, so don’t worry about following along with the “Shakespeare English.” They eloquently and succinctly bring the humor and drama needed across the five intense acts. The cast’s natural talent and harmony is evident as they provide a beautiful, cohesive performance of one of Shakespeare’s iconic tragicomedies.
As with every Texas State theatre production, “Measure of Measure” is undoubtedly an absolute must-see. The show is a Common Experience event and opens on Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m., running every day through Feb. 16 and closing with a final matinee showing at 2 p.m. that will feature a short talkback. Tickets are available online at Texas State Presents (Texas State students get a discount!), at the box office inside Patti Strickel Harrison Theatre, or by phone at (512) 245-6500.
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