Measure for Measure | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Measure for Measure 

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MEASURE FOR MEASURE, Strawdog Theatre Company. As director Nic Dimond's production opens, the Duke of Vienna lounges about in a silk robe, knocking back Scotches with his junior-Mafia underlings. Under his leadership Vienna's strict laws--premarital sex is a capital offense, for example--have gone unenforced, so he's putting the moral zealot Angelo in charge. From the scene's casual tone, it seems the Duke is less interested in the affairs of state than he is in mixing a good cocktail.

It's an intriguing setup: since the Duke alone knows Angelo to be something of a reprobate, putting him on the throne has always been a puzzle. But a nonchalant attitude goes a long way toward explaining his choice. The problem is, a similar nonchalance pervades the entire first act. When Claudio is sentenced to death for fornication, both he and his captors--who've committed the same offense--act as though they've been caught in some fraternity prank. When Claudio's cloistered sister Isabella learns of her brother's sentence, her perfunctory "alas" seems the Elizabethan equivalent of "bummer."

Dimond then tries to reclaim the play's stakes in the ensuing four acts, turning up the passion as though flicking a switch. But the attempt feels academic; once a play is abandoned it's nearly impossible to jump-start it in midcourse. Despite some strong acting, the cast seems to be going through the motions for a long two and a half hours.

--Justin Hayford

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