Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 1, 2009

Measure for Measure

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through September 2, 2009
by Shera Cohen

The subject matter of many of today’s movies and television shows is tragicomedy. While this word is probably a relatively new entry in the dictionary, a little known fact is that Shakespeare was one of the first to write a play with equal elements of drama and humor. “Measure for Measure” is such a piece.

Director Dave Demke has updated the play, setting it in 1930s pre-World War II Austria. At the same time, Shakespearian images remain in costuming, staging, not to mention language. As the title implies, the balance of several themes exists throughout the story; i.e. justice and injustice, loyalty and ephemeral causes, wisdom and ignorance, power and succumbing, church and state. Yes, these are serious issues, which make for the “tragic” side of the tragicomedy. They balance with the many Keystone Cop or Marx Brothers-like scenes of slapstick, stupidity, and literal running around in circles with no destination.

Future audiences should not be put off by the fact that the actors are not Equity (professional), but are members of the Center for Actor Training’s Performance Internship at Shakes & Co. This education program is highly selective and well-respected throughout the country. “Measure’s” cast is an ensemble of very talented younger actors, each of whom portrays at least three roles. A lecture by the director as well as a talk on the costuming of “Measure” took place in late-July. Attending either or both augmented understanding of the play, although neither is required to appreciate the story.

Standout performers are Nathan Wolfe Coleman, lecherous townsman Lucio; Emily Karol, low-brow sheriff Elbow; Aaron Sharff; flophouse resident Pompey; and Tom O’Keefe, wise yet bookish Duke. Here again, in keeping with tragi and comedy and measure for measure, each actor (except for O’Keefe in the lead role) played both sides of the ying and yang – not an easy task for seasoned thespians, let alone theatre students.