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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
MEASURE FOR MEASURE
at the Duke

COMEDY OVER TRAGEDY
By SANDY MACDONALD

  Elizabeth Waterston and Rocco Sisto

Steeped as it is in sex and death (indeed, often equating the two), Measure for Measure would seem an odd candidate to be played for laughs. Yet that appears to have been director Arin Arbus’ strategy in Theatre for a New Audience’s physically stark production.
 
The stage comes alive whenever the comic sidemen kick in: Alfred Narciso as compulsive japer Lucio, Christopher Jones as the dim constable Elbow, and especially John Keating as the shameless bawd Pompey. Whenever they’re not holding forth, though, the mood shifts to somber and often downright dull.
 
Rocco Sisto is fine – in fact, convincingly creepy – as the crypto-lech Angelo, whose campaign to rout out vice in Vienna clearly stems from his own repressed dark side. However, as Isabella, the object of Angelo’s eventually unleashed lust, Elisabeth Waterston is oddly muted. The scene in which this near-nun begs Angelo to spare her brother’s life (Claudio, movingly played by LeRoy McClain, has been postponing marriage to his pregnant girlfriend over a dowry technicality) ought to be a marvel of both emotion and rhetoric. Waterston, however, swallows her words, along with the feelings they’re meant to convey; she’s like Olive Oyl without the animation.
 
Jefferson Mays, with his innocent baby face, all big blue eyes, seems perfectly suited to overcome the contradictions built into the character of Duke Vincentio, the high-minded puppet-master who pretends to absent himself from the city, putting Angelo in charge. We’re meant to perceive the Duke a good guy, despite the manipulative mind games he indulges in, like allowing Isabella to believe her brother dead. Even as he’s pulling the strings, Mays seems to be standing outside the game, as if to say: Can you believe I’m getting away with this?
 
This particular play is always going to have its peculiarities, snags to disorient modern sensibilities. By presenting it faithfully, flaws and all, Arbus manages to send us off off-kilter and questioning – always the sign of effective drama.
 

 


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