“Measure for Measure”
Long Wharf Theatre
Long Wharf Theatre is currently presenting an utterly effervescent production of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” and it is an absolute must. As put on by the Fiasco Theater, who previously staged this production in New York, the show’s two acts pass by like a delightful dream, with sterling performances by the entire company of six versatile actors. Even for those theatregoers who may have trouble understanding Shakespeare, fear not: this “Measure for Measure” is entirely accessible and a great deal of fun. Set on a basically empty stage, with a variety of doorframes as the primary scenery, directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld keep this show happily spinning from beginning to end. It is noted in the program that “Measure for Measure” is known as one of Shakespeare’s “problem” plays. Well, I’m here to tell you this production gets everything right and is a complete joy.
This “Measure for Measure” would never work as well without a talented group of actors. Happily, the entire cast is pretty much perfect, with nearly all of them playing multiple roles. As the two actresses in the play, Jessie Austrian and Emily Young shine. Each of them play dual parts and they are both sublime. As Escalus/Mariana, Jessie Austrian is pretty great and she is matched by Emily Young, who is able to show her impressive acting range in the contrasting roles of Isabella and Mistress Overdone. In the parts of Angelo and Elbow, Paul L. Coffey is similarly gifted and gives a fine performance in both roles.
As it turns out, co-directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld also have parts in “Measure for Measure” and they are entirely wonderful. Noah Brody brings a good deal of sexuality to his roles of Pompey and Claudio, and he can be quite funny, as well. And, speaking of funny, in a cast of equals, Ben Steinfeld comes close to stealing the show. Though he also plays the part of Froth, in the role of Lucio, this actor wins laughs and applause throughout, and, near the conclusion, pretty much stops the show cold with his hilarious acting. Finally, as the one performer who plays just a single role in the show, Andy Grotelueschen is terrific as the Duke and he manages to be the solid rock in the play that the rest of the company joyfully spins around.
There are other pleasures in this production of “Measure for Measure,” as well, and they include the period perfect costumes by designer Whitney Locher and the imaginative lighting design by Christopher Akerlind. Derek McLane’s scenic design is entirely functional and well suited to the production, but I must mention one problem in the staging of the set pieces: at the beginning of the second act, two of the movable door frames are placed at the two front corners of the stage, which ultimately becomes a problem in seeing the actors, depending on where you are sitting in the theatre. Thankfully, the two doors frames are eventually moved to the back of the stage, but they did hinder my view of the performers.
But this is a minor lapse in an otherwise marvelous show. The Fiasco Theater presents quite an irreverent and infectious take on “Measure for Measure,” and we are lucky that Long Wharf Theatre is currently playing host to this production. And to have the entire original company recreating the roles that they originally played in New York is an extra treat. By all means, come to see this “Measure for Measure,” for a truly joyous and also quite perceptive take on this Shakespeare play.
“Measure for Measure” continues performances at Long Wharf Theatre through December 20, 2015. For tickets, please visit www.longwharf.org or call the box office at 203-787-4282.