Santa Clara University’s presentation of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure hit a home run on its opening night last Friday at the Meyer Theater. Director Jeffrey Bracco’s well-paced production of this dark comedy is easy to enjoy whether you’re a Shakespeare lover or haven’t crossed paths with a Shakespeare play since you endured tedious Macbeth readings in high school.
The play tells the story of Duke Vincencio of Vienna (Chris Denson) who leaves town and returns in disguise to find out what goes on when he’s not looking. He leaves his deputy in charge, Lord Angelo (Derek Sikkema) who quickly becomes a home-town despot, determined to root out the corruption–specifically fornication and prostitution–that has, in his view, been unchecked during the easygoing Duke’s rule.
Angelo ends up snared in his own net–a familiar fate for crusaders and zealots–and learns that justice is only just when it is tempered by mercy, love and self-reflection.
The moral drama revolves around Angelo and Isabella (Marie Sadd), a novice nun pleading for her brother who is headed for execution for fornication.
Sikkema and Sadd bring depth and conviction to the psychological interplay of these two conflicted people caught in the contradictions of their own professed morality and unacknowledged passions. The comic characters rise above buffoonery, to be cuttingly funny and touchingly human at the same time.
The production aims for audience intimacy that included on-stage seating, extending the stage over the first six rows of seats and bringing some of the action through the theater.
While the on-stage seating unquestionably lets you experience the show from a new POV, it has some drawbacks in this production. The principal one is that depending on the placement of the actors, there’s an echo that can make it difficult to follow the dialog, Since the stage is extended into the audience, the same closeness can be experienced from the first row equally well.
Another drawback to the on-stage seats is that the dazzling comedy of Drew Descourouez’s portrayal of Lucio–a well-born connoisseur of the low life, inveterate joker and vulgarian–isn’t fully visible from the stage seats.
The production design was what could be called modern dress fascist–boots, austere black and grey sets, flashing red lights. This setting has become so common for this play over the last 40 years that it would now feel an innovation to stage the play in its original 16th century setting.
The costuming ranged from inspired for the pimp Pompey–played with panache by Darrell Hubbard in turquoise pumps–to pedestrian street clothes that made you wonder if some of the costumes had been destroyed in a sudden wardrobe catastrophe.
However, none of these things detract from the show’s enjoyability. With tight pacing, un-affected and clearly delivered dialog, the talented ensemble of young actors delivers a uniformly virtuoso performance.
Measure for Measure runs Thursday, June 8 through Sunday June 10 at 8 p.m. in Meyer Theater on the SCU campus. Tickets are $10-$20 and can be purchased at scupresents.org, by calling 408-554-4015 or at the door.