Scott Keel described Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure as a “problem play” — it has an extraneous plot and an excessive comedic character that increases the run time of the show. To solve those issues Keel, in directing this lesser-known work for Montford Park Players, excised the entirety of said plot and character. The result is a far more streamlined and enjoyable production; the play is onstage at the Hazel Robinson amphitheater through Saturday, Aug. 27.
This summer, MPP brought in Michael MacCauley. He’s been named best actor by Xpress readers in the annual Best of WNC poll and recently directed the MPP staging of Titus Andronicus. Here, he plays Angelo, a man of some power and authority, who finds himself entangled with some romantic complications surrounding an impending execution of a man who impregnated a young woman. MacCauley takes an easily dislikable character and delivers a solid performance. He laces subtle bits of humor into his performance, dulling the harsh edge of the character, and even making the audience want to like him and see him change by the end. As his foil, Trinity Smith Keel is Isabella. Pleading for the life of her brother, Claudio, she finds herself the object of Angelo’s desire. Keel is a strong actress who holds her own with MacCauley in scenes where Angelo wields his power and position over her. Angelo holds Isabella’s brothers life in his hands, offers Claudio’s freedom for Isabell’s submission. She must outmaneuver Claudio, despite having little advantage as a woman, in order to save both her brother and her own virginity. In those roles, Keel and MacCauley make impressive dueling partners in the verbal battle of wills and wits.
David Mycoff has a nice turn as the Duke. That character, seeing the potential error of Angelo’s authoritarian ways, disguises himself as a friar and seeks the truth in the hope that it will set Claudio free, and teach Angelo a lesson or two. Jon Stockdale’s Claudio, meanwhile, spends much time in chains, being led about the stage, and gives a sympathetic performance as a man being punished for simply getting the woman he loves pregnant. MPP stalwart Jason Williams has a raucous time as the perpetual busybody, Lucio. He gets most of the laughs with a deft performance where he sucks up to various people of power while making curt remarks when they are just out of earshot. Naturally, his two-faced ways start to catch up to him — to comedic effect. A particular stand-out performance comes from James Curley, as Escalus. He has a great command of the Shakespearean text and a strong presence on stage as the unflappable aid to Angelo and confidant to The Duke. You instantly sense the weight of responsibilities upon his shoulders.
Even the supporting cast is filled with some of WNC’s strongest actors, who give smaller but pivotal roles a lot of gravity. Devyn Ray, Mary Katherine O’Donnell and Christine Caldemeyer particularly shine, despite having little to do in the overall proceedings. One would expect to see these ladies in leading roles, as they more often are. It is refreshing to see them take on lesser parts, which help raise the entire production.
Giving the typical summer outdoor theater experience a twist, Keel chose to stage the production with the audience on two sides of the cast. The actors played the show mostly on the new lower stage area. It was built going into this season, and has been a great improvement. A few dozen audience members are seated on the upper level of the stage, while the majority sit in the amphitheater seating as usual. This requires the actors to stay in motion most of the show, giving the proceedings an urgency. It is an energetic and passionate evening of Shakespeare, expertly done.
WHAT: Measure For Measure by William Shakespeare
WHERE: Hazel Robinson Amphitheater, 92 Gay St., montfordparkplayers.org
WHEN: Through Saturday, Aug. 27. Fridays through Sundays, at 7:30 p.m. Free