A director must have a definite point of view about Shakespeare's dark comedy "Measure for Measure," currently being staged by Oklahoma City Theatre Company at Civic Center Music Hall's CitySpace theater.
It may be played as a light comedy or a love story, and is what is known as a "problem play." The problems include sex scandals, social issues and abuse of authority. As he often does in the tragedies, Shakespeare employs comic scenes in "Measure" more as humorous relief. The bawdy humor, sex and earthy language, which made the play objectionable in the 18th and 19th centuries, make it attractive today.
Director Shelley Lytle seems to have a perspective about "Measure for Measure." She sets the play in early 1900s Venice, which works for the most part, although one wonders about the ponytailed Angelo. Lytle definitely leans toward the dark side, but she could have leaned further.
Much of the slapstick is superfluous or distracting, such as in the hilariously written scene where Elbow brings Froth and Pompey to trial before Escalus. But Lytle has nerve. The shenanigans between the executioner (a creepy Christopher Curtis) and Pompey the Clown (an epicene Daniel Leeman Smith) are over-the-top. Talk about the odd couple.
IMPREGNATING HIS BETROTHED
Early in the play, Isabella is about to enter a convent when Angelo (Paul Armstrong) sentences her brother, Claudio (Ian Clinton), to death for prematurely impregnating his betrothed, Juliet (Sarah Young). Under Venetian law, although they had a valid marriage contract, Claudio and Juliet erred when they consummated their marriage before they had the required church service "? a capital offense in Venice.
Those who call "Measure" a love story are referring to the relationship between Duke Vincentio and Isabella. At first, Isabella bemuses the Duke: "Never could the strumpet, with all her double vigor, art, and nature, once stir my temper; but this virtuous maid subdues me quite." The potential May-December romance between Doug Van Liew's Duke and Michele Fields' Isabella doesn't produce the chemistry needed for a love story.
But Fields does a fine job and is well-cast as Isabella. Her Isabella is a strong woman whose steely resolve falters under extreme pressure from Angelo, but returns when in a matter literally of life or death, she pleads for Claudio's life and forgives Angelo.
Real humor is spotty in this production. Rosemary Orwig-Rodgers is funny in a brief scene in which she instructs Isabella in convent protocol. Armstrong's Angelo is disturbingly threatening, and in a bit of cross-gender casting, Deborah Draheim plays Escalus.
Pat Hill's spare set and lighting design are fine. Lytle has the actors carry "? or more accurately, dance "? props on and off to music, a conceit that grows thin after about the third scene change.
One has to give OCTC credit for putting outstanding acting onstage, and this production certainly does not lack energy. David Mays could steal every show he is in, but he's too good of an actor for that. Playing Lucio, Mays perfectly modulates his performance to fit the character. "?Larry Laneer