On the heels of a week of political anxiety, emotion, and change, the Department of Theater and Dance appropriately presents William Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure." One of Shakespeare's dark and complex comedies, "Measure for Measure" explores probing human questions of power, authority, and responsibility that are particularly relevant in light of the recent presidential election.
"Measure for Measure" focuses on the relationship between political life and society in Vienna, Austria. After 14 years of neglectful rule, in which corruption and decadence have flourished in the kingdom, the Duke of Vienna puts an austere Puritan, Lord Angelo, in power to rectify the situation. The severity of Angelo's rule sets the stage for several subplots through which Shakespeare explores the ways in which human laws and natural laws, spiritual purity, and physical desire conflict.
According to Associate Professor of Theater Davis Robinson, who directed the play, "Measure for Measure" asks probing questions: Does absolute power corrupt absolutely? And, when you have power, how do you use it or abuse it?
At its root, "Measure for Measure" is a play that abounds in contradictions and deftly blurs the line between good and evil.
"No one can be all good, and that is apparent here," Robinson said. "For that reason, there are contradictions here that you can't explain away because no one is without a conscience."
"This is a very mature piece of Shakespeare's work," he added. "It is very dark and tragic, and then also very humorous in places. It is a dark comedy and then some very unusual things happen that illustrate how life doesn't have a neat and tidy ending."
Robinson began preparing for "Measure for Measure" last summer and worked with the text in order to compress it. The first week of the fall semester, he cast the play with Kathleen Lewis '10, Sam Plattus '12, and Derek Brook '12 in the leading roles. According to Robinson, "Measure for Measure" is an "in-house production." Aislinn Curry '09 is the stage manager and Susanna Kimport '09 is the light designer.
Robinson chose a Shakespeare play for the fall production because of the experiences and opportunities the Bard's plays hold for both actors and audience members.
"For actors, Shakespeare is the best training there is," he said. "Because of the language, and because of the bold physicality and emotionality of it. And for the audience, there is a major cumulative effect that happens. As a member of the audience, you might not understand everything but you get caught up in it emotionally. By the end of the evening, you feel like you've been through this journey, that you've lived something. It's transformative for both the cast and for the audience."
Of Shakespeare's plays, this one is particularly evocative because of its "minor key" and because it is a "very conflicted and dark, but beautiful play," according to Robinson. It is also the closest that Shakespeare came to Theater of the Absurd. Over the years, it has been attacked because of its frank discussion of sex, prostitution, and pregnancy out of wedlock. Now, however, there are more possibilities for discourse around this subject matter.
"I think we now live in a time where the paradoxes and subject matter of 'Measure for Measure' are much more timely and ready to be heard," Robinson said.
To draw this parallel on an aesthetic and visceral level, Robinson has chosen to make this version of "Measure for Measure" contemporary in set design and costume.
"We're not trying to draw exact parallels to the contemporary political scene we're in now," Robinson said. "But it's about bigger human questions that apply to everyone in a way. Making this play visually contemporary helps you to see yourself in certain moments and places."
"Because we've all been guilty of being in places where you see abusive power and you don't know what to do about it," he added. "And because we're all tempted and we've all fallen and we've all risen. In the end, this play is a beautiful expression of how we live through these decisions and contradictions on a day to day basis."
After a tumultuous and tense political week, "Measure for Measure" is a play that falls right into the milieu.
"I knew for the fall play we would need something meatier, something shadier, and something more complex," Robinson said.
"I want this to be a community event that is somehow celebratory because it is election week. This play is provocatively in tune with what's going on both nationally and locally on campus," he added. "This is a very interesting and very appropriate play to do right now as it magnifies the ambiguities and contradictions of how to govern and how to lead."
"Measure for Measure" will show tonight and on Saturday at 8 p.m. in Pickard Theater. Tickets are free and available at the Smith Union info desk.