Review: Measure for Measure (Shakespeare BASH’d)

Photo Sochi Friend in Measure for MeasureMeasure for Measure doesn’t break molds but delivers stellar performances, playing in Toronto

If a company attempts to reinterpret a text as more progressive than it is, does the play overcome its era?

Shakespeare BASH’d‘s Measure for Measure playing at the Junction City Music Hall might not rewrite the history books but it offers its own rewards for the audience.

When the Duke Vincentio (David Ross) gives power to his overly righteous subordinate Angelo (Geoffrey Armour), virtue becomes law. When Claudio (Jeff Young) impregnates Juliet (Megan Miles) out of wedlock, he is imprisoned and sentenced to death. In an attempt to save his life, his sister Isabella (Sochi Fried) pleads his case but is given a terrible ultimatum: she can sleep with Angelo and save her brother or let him die.

What follows are deceptions, hidden identities, and questions of what it means for a woman to live in shame.

The cast here is incredible. Fried’s Isabella is equally defiant and stern as well as joyful and kind. She even manages to twist humour into the character, delivering an wonderfully nuanced performance.

Armour is so damn smarmy you want to throttle him, but he still keeps that villainous charm.

Even Yung as Claudio, who doesn’t get much stage time, gives a memorable and versatile turn as a man who’s not quite the man his sister thought he was. The moment where Claudio begs his sister to give in to Angelo’s demand is shocking and desperate. Yung nails it.

The actual problem I had with the production, and why it wasn’t perfect, comes from two very different places. The first is, timely though the show’s focus may be — namely powerful men who coerce women and the world that blames the women for these men — the text is not very progressive or deep about the situation.

Measure for Measure has not aged well, in my opinion. Director Catherine Rainville works to deliver a feminist interpretation, giving Isabella room to seethe and even pushing for a different type of ending that I won’t spoil. Unfortunately, because Shakespeare BASH’d focuses on the original text, its still beholden to the problems of the era.

In the time of Shakespeare, happy or ambiguous endings always deferred to patriarchal values, and Rainville’s direction can never quite overcome the truth of that.

The second problem (for lack of a better word) I had with the production is that the comedy subplots were so funny that they overshadowed the seriousness of the subject. And when I say funny, I mean downright hilarious.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Shakespeare production where I wished there was an entire play dedicated to long-suffering Provost (Drew O’Hara) trying to manage the jail with Pompey (Lesley Robertson) and Abhorsen (played for this show only by James Wallis). Tim MacLean (tackling three roles as Gentleman, Elbow, and Barnadine), Lesley Robertson as Pompey, and Michael Man as Lucio are comedy gods.

The entire audience would perk up as soon as either Robertson and Man walked on stage. I don’t know what I liked more, Robertson’s sympathetic, debauched Pompey attempting to coax a drunk Barnadine to his execution, or watching Man’s Lucio make snide comments to the Duke.

Content-wise, in my opinion, the show is never going to be as progressive as people want. In 2018, I have no doubt there are other plays that have tackled the dramatic themes of Measure for Measure better, and with a much more feminist lens.

What Shakespeare BASH’d delivers might not be progress, but it’s still something worth seeing.

If you love Shakespeare, you’ll love this production. If you just want to see a good show, you’ll like it. If you’re looking for a play that pushes against the patriarchy, Measure for Measure doesn’t quite measure up.

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Photo of Sochi Friend by Kyle Purcell