Review by Tulis McCall
Seriously: someone please tell me why we keep going back to Shakespeare? Hey – I’m not saying he is bad. Alls I’m saying is how many times? Are there no other authors to which we could devote some time and study? Maybe Desire Under the Elms – in the park! Or Little Foxes – in the Park!!
Maybe it’s the disguise thing. Maybe we, like David Ives (author of the superb School For Lies) thinks it’s pretty darn funny that a hat or a hood or a pair of glasses is enough to dupe an entire town into not recognizing someone. The night I saw this production, the Duke’s reveal from a Brother to himself drew a healthy does of laughs. (The best one was when I saw Coriolanus at Lincoln Center. When Martha Plimpton took of her hat to reveal she was a woman, some wisenheimer in back of us emitted a very dramatic gasp that set off our whole section of the audience.)
All that being said – maybe I’m feeling this way because this second production in the 2010 repertory is, like the first, on the dull side.
It is a sad day in Vienna when the Duke (Lorenzo Pisoni) leaves town so he can spy on his second in command, Angelo (Michael Hayden). He leaves his two older faithful counselors Escalus (John Cullum) and Provost (Daikin Matthews) to be counselor and guard to Angelo. But Angelo turns out to be the Newt Gingrich of his time, pointing fingers at immorality and severely punishing the offenders, all the while covering his own buried lust with his devotion to the rule of law. It is not until Isabella (Danai Gurira) the sister of one condemned Claudio (André Holland) leaves the convent where she is about to take her vows and pleads for her brother that Angelo’s secret desires come to the fore. But Angelo is so lacking in common sense that instead of wooing the maid he propositions her: her virginity for her brother’s life. Because Isabella is in every way the opposite of her tormentor, the proposition is not accepted.
This is another case where none of the men fare well, for when Isabella pleads her predicament to her brother, he is of the opinion that a life of virginity is not so bad a deal. To the rescue, however, comes the Duke who, with great import and slight of hand, not to mention that nifty disguise that makes him look like a man of the cloth, promises that if Isabella trusts him, all will be well. Angelo will be hoist by his own petard. Not only that, he will be married to the woman he once spurned – what a deal for her! – and Claudio will be saved, and there might be a little something in it for Isabella because anyone can see she deserves a break.
The Duke is true to his word. The path through this tale depends on Isabella, and here we are not disappointed because Gurira brings with her some very deep understanding of what it is to be a woman wronged and powerless. The only tool she has to defend herself is her mind, and she wields that mightily. Michael Hayden provides a worthy adversary for her with his simplicity and certainty. Once again Cullum and Matthews bring up two beautiful performances and Carson Elrod as Pompey brings a contemporary tone that pushes us out of the comfort of looking at this as just a play. Annie Parisse is unconvincing as Angelos’ long wronged almost wife. Reg Rogers is still playing his part from The Royal Family. And there you have it.
David Esbjornson begins the show with an intriguing look into the underbelly of Vienna. Black devils and courtesans, that with chains in all the scary places, prowl the streets, but which disappear too quickly, and we are left with only a rather bland production where no one dies because it is a comedy.
The swallows, geese, blue jays and robins that dotted the twilight seemed to be having a better time. Not to mention the helicopters and blimp from Direct TV.
"Absorbing new production."
Charles Isherwood for the New York Times
"(It) has its issues as well as a mustn't-miss performance (Danai Gurira)."
Joe Dziemianowicz for the New York Daily News
"This far from measured "Measure" could have used a lot more balance."
Frank Scheck for the New York Post
"Hayden (Duke) and his determined foil, Danai Gurira’s Isabella, (are) compelling players in this well-told moralistic tale."
Jeremy Gerard for the Bloomberg
"Despite the somewhat schizophrenic nature of the production, it still largely satisfies."
David Sheward for Back Stage
"This workmanlike production provides the basics."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Skilled but cautious production doesn't quite cut it."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...