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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Delacorte Theatre


  (L to R) Danai Gurira, Dakin Matthews, Annie Parisse, Michael Hayden and Lorenzo Pisoni/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Director David Esbjornson’s vision of Measure for Measure, one of Shakespeare’s more problematic plays, opens promisingly, with horned demons scampering about a dark, tiered skeleton of a set. Yes, you think, what we’re about to see is no abstract morality tale: To Elizabethan viewers, the wages of sin weren’t mere shame and contrition – the stuff of our daily headlines – but literal, physical torture. Straying from the path meant an eternity spent in proximity to such imps, wielding pitchforks.
Alas, it’s the evening in store that will feel like an eternity. Esbjornson may have the mood of the eternal hereafter well in mind (and snatches of interstitial music by John Gromada lend a cosmic gravitas). However, he neglects to lend much specificity to the world – or rather worlds – right before us.
The play, challenged by a contrary plot to begin with, simply will not work without a clear distinction between its two spheres: the repressive moral constraint of Duke Vincentio’s Viennese court, and the anything-goes libertinism of the underworld it supports. Here, all is muddled, with no fun to be found anywhere.
The character of Lucio, a slumming noble, ought to serve as witty tour guide to the licentious shenanigans; however, the only activity that Reg Rogers appears truly to savor is thrilling to the sound of his own voice, down to every last aspiration. He combines the mannerisms of Ed Wynn and Phil Silvers, minus their comic appeal.
Carson Elrod is fine as the pimp Pompey, though his punk get-up (Elizabeth Hope Clancy designed the standard-issue porn-fantasy wear) can be a bit distracting. Tonya Pinkins, as Mistress Overdone, seems somewhat underdone while awaiting an opportunity to show off her impressive pipes. Overall, the “sinners” appear as a gallery of types, not a tight band of collaborators.
Miscasting also plagues the supposedly superior caste. Lorenzo Pisoni plays the Duke like a Disney prince, and the Clark Kent disguise – i.e., black-framed glasses – provided for his incognito forays is too silly in context: This guy presumes a puppet master's control over his subjects' lives.
Though skewing young for the role of the Duke’s deputy Angelo, a consummate hypocrite and sexual extortionist, Michael Hayden pulls off the coup of conveying an old man’s pinched spirit boxed within a young man’s body, and keeps his machinations interesting at all times. As Isabella, the novice who values her virginity over her brother’s survival, Danai Gurira appears out of her depth. Isabella ought to appear not as a pathetic petitioner, but as a passionate young woman confident in her powers of rhetoric.
Annie Parisse makes an all too brief appearance toward play’s end as the phenomenally forgiving Mariana, Angelo’s spurned fiancee. “They say, best men are molded out of faults; and, for the most, become much more the better for being a little bad,” Mariana posits delicately. If only the same could be said for flawed productions such as this one.

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