By Joanne Engelhardt, published July 27, 2017
While William Shakespeare’s 1604 play “Measure for Measure” is seldom produced and is considered both a comedy and a “problem play” because of its serious themes about justice, mercy and mortality, Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s take on it appears to lean heavily on the comedic side.
That’s a good thing.
The second 2017 SCS production debuted Friday night at The Grove at DeLaveaga Park and was roundly welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd. Yes, the early moments of the play are perplexing for anyone unfamiliar with “Measure for Measure” (which is to say, probably most people).
It’s about 20 minutes in before all of these parts begin to fall into place, especially after a novice nun, Isabella, comes to Angelo to plead for her brother Claudio’s life. What has Claudio done that causes Angelo to order him beheaded? His betrothed, Julietta, is pregnant, and though they were married, they hadn’t yet completed all the strict legal technicalities so are considered unmarried.
So picky, that Angelo! But wait: It turns out Angelo also has a betrothed, Mariana, who, because her dowry was lost at sea, he’s now unwilling to marry her.
The wizardry of the sound designer is tested in this production, where abruptly someone produces an iPod and switches off some loud rock (or other) music, and thanks to Brandon Wolcott, these moments come off without a hitch.
And the costumes! In the first scene, costume designer Montana Levi Blanco dresses everyone in black – shiny boots, leather gloves, black shirts, pants, with a touch of red on the black jacket pockets for the men, and black dresses for the ladies (one wearing a smart black hat). But the Duke (youthful, earnest Rowan Vickers) wears a warm blue suit and horned rim glasses to distinguish him from the others.
Naturally the saintly Isabella (a resolute, sometimes fiery Lindsay Rico) wears a long white gown throughout the play. But it is two other performers, Lucio (a rock-star type with close-cropped blonde hair played by the riveting Adam Shroeder) and the trio of Elbow, Mistress Overdone and Mariana (all played by the sublime Annie Worden) who get the outlandish outfits to wear.
Once their characters are well established, all of the above plus the ruthless, conniving Angelo (a convincing, sometimes chilling David Graham Jones), run through their scenes with efficient action. Angelo makes regular use of a white sink at one side of the stage, soaping up and washing his hands relentlessly. It’s as if he’s trying to wash away the memory of some of the sinister things he has set in motion.
Worden is simply uproarious as the rowdy proprietor of a Vienna brothel, yet she succeeds in totally different roles as well. She can be efficient when she’s one of the Duke’s staff, timid and unsure as Mariana, and then straight back to slapstick comedy as Elbow.
The reliable Patty Gallagher makes a steady, honest Provost, and she shores up several other roles like Lady Froth as well. Tristan Cunningham makes a serious sidekick for Angelo and she also succeeds as the old lord Escalus. As Claudio, the youthful Kevin Matthew Reyes takes a while to ease into his character, but he does well as Mistress Overdone’s pimp Pompey.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE
Presented by: Santa Cruz Shakespeare
Directed by: Tyne Rafaeli
When: In repertoire with two other productions through Sept. 3. Evening performances at 7:30 and 8 p.m.; matinees at 2 p.m.
Where: The Grove at DeLaveaga Park. 501 Upper Park Road, Santa Cruz
Details: 831-460-6399 or www.santacruzshakespeare.org