Theater Review: Measure For Measure by Montford Park Players

David Mycoff, Christine Cauldemeyer, Mary Katherine O'Donnell and Jason Williams in Measure For Measure by Montford Park Players Photo coutesy of the theater company

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.,
WHEN: Through Saturday, Aug. 27. Fridays through Sundays, at 7:30 p.m. Free

About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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17 thoughts on “Theater Review: Measure For Measure by Montford Park Players

    • Jason Williams

      Occasionally. Last year we did Richard III in very modern dress, Twelfth Night in kind of a ’30 style, and a hip-hop influenced production of Midsummer. We’ve also done modern (or semi-modern) dress productions of As You Like It, Love’s Labours Lost, Julius Caesar, Titus Andronicus, and The Importance of Being Earnest among others.
      Curious, would a modern dress performance increase your interest in seeing a show at MPP?

      • Curious

        “. . . would a modern dress performance increase your interest in seeing a show at MPP?”


    • boatrocker

      Wait, you mean for living in Asheville these folks are ‘in costume’?
      There goes my wardrobe choices for the next century.

  1. Jason Williams

    Jeff, thanks for the positive review. One concern though; I don’t think it was your intent, but the phrase “holds her own” might be misconstrued by some people as saying, Mrs. Smith-Keel would not be as impressive on her own if she were not sharing stage with such a powerful male actor as Mr. MacCauley. It would be unfortunate if readers interpreted your comments as misogynistic in tone given all that’s going on in local theater, politics, and the world right now. Mrs Smith-Keel is without a doubt a fine actor in her own right, and should garner as equal praise for her overall performance as Mr. MacCauley does, even if their scenes together are the ones that really define the production.

    • Jeff Messer

      Jason – the comments were intended to be aimed at pointing out Mr MacCaulley’s many more years of professional experience, compared to Ms Keel. Gender was never a factor in my viewing of the show or my comments about it. It was simply a comment on how well she held her own against a more seasoned veteran of stage (and screen). She is to be commended as a performer, and her talents are every bit up to a task that others (male or female) might not be capable of, given the requirements of the role on stage in this show.

      • Mandy

        While I certainly don’t believe gender was an intended factor, with the current climate, the phrasing unfortunately does smack of the kind of unconscious misogyny prevalent in the media today. It immediately put me in mind of recent headlines where female Olympians have only been lauded in comparison to their male counterparts. It’s something that can quite frankly go unnoticed unless you’re a woman who is used to experiencing similar things. Women are VERY frequently only praised in theatre in regards to their relationship to the men onstage. Again, I don’t believe this is at all intentional or malicious, but it’s important to hear how such wording is perceived.

        • Jeff Messer

          Just a thought: If I wasn’t commenting on her sex as a factor, why are others now? Does that not speak to their interpretation, rather than my review? I didn’t write it that way. Interesting that others eagerly read it that way. Isn’t it? And that’s comment on them, not me.

          • Mandy

            I think it would be more accurate to say it’s a comment on the patriarchal society that we live in, not on your readers. No one pointing this out has been unkind to you or attacked you. Getting defensive does nothing to help further intelligent discourse. Maybe it would be more productive to take a moment to listen to someone else’s perspective, and try to understand that it takes a heck of a lot of courage to even point out the other side. As I said, this is an ongoing issue for women in theatre. It’s not about this one particular review. This is just one small example. Again, no one said it was intentional. But to dismiss other’s opinions as being invalid just because it wasn’t your intent to come across that way is not something I expect from you.

  2. Jon Menick

    Jason, I was shocked by your statement that Jeff Messer was mysoginistic in his review. My word, he gave you a glowing review. It was blatantly obvious what he meant by his evaluation of Ms Keel. Telling him how he should evaluate her is, without doubt, offensive.

    • Big Al

      Don’t be so shocked. In this era of institutionalized victimization, actions or speech that may suggest misogyny are deemed guilty until proven innocent, and even a plea or verdict of innocence or will be labeled an act of misogyny.

      And feel free to replace the word misogyny in the above statement with racism. Same rules apply.

      • Jeff Messer

        The play itself displays misogyny in the very character relationship that seems to be the center of a lot of needless banter here (I did explain pretty clearly what my review comments were about). In fact, some of the central elements of the play and those two characters revolve around previously accepted male dominance over women as subjects to the whims of men. So maybe people can dig up Shakespeare and get their tights in a twist over his actual words, and not my comments about them.

    • Mandy

      On the contrary. Speaking up (very politely, I might add) about something that is an ongoing issue in not only this field, but many others, takes an incredible amount of tact and courage. I applaud Jason for making the good guy choice to point out the possibility of this feeling misogynistic to readers, ESPECIALLY when he himself was praised in the review. That takes guts.

  3. Jeff Messer

    Jumping on a fictional belief that my review of a play about a leading character who is quite misogynist, is itself misogynist, is quite a snake eating its own tail.
    I suppose no one who is complaining about my review’s wording (which they are interpreting, since I have more than made it clear what my intent was), took exception to seeing, supporting or being in a production which happily shows misogyny in its lead male character.
    And equally seriously, this is my final comment on this matter, lest people I respect greatly lose some of that in my estimation for grinding on about something that they are either imposing or imagining.
    Peace out.
    And don’t make me feel guilty for applauding a show of such naked misogyny, since I am obviously condemned for having enjoyed it. (Though those in it get a pass for their endorsement of said depicted misogyny.)

  4. Jeff Messer

    Thanks baby Jesus I wasn’t asked to review Red Pill Diaries!

    • Peter Robbins

      There you go, Mrs. Parker. That’s what you should have said to begin with.

    • The Real World

      Hey Jeff – some of us completely and easily understood what you put forth and it was totally fine. You should ignore the snowflakes who can’t, or refuse to, comprehend accurately.

      (But, I do have to say that I feel wry amusement watching the crazies eat each other. They now attack their own! Yes indeed, Rome is burning……)

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