The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1040 Monday, 21 June 1999.
Date: Friday, 18 Jun 1999 18:00:31 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Measure For Measure at the Ahmanson
Last night I attended a preview performance of the Sir Peter Hall
production of Measure For Measure at the Ahmanson Theare in Los
Angeles. I was distinctly disappointed.
The time frame for the play is unspecified, but based on the wardrobe
and set, it appears to be early 19th century. It is not clear to me why
this time frame was selected. Normally when a director changes the time
for the play there is some specific reason. If there was such a reason,
it was never revealed.
The location is also unclear, but again based on set clues it appears to
be set in the US. As with the time, there is no clear reason for that
The Duke (Brian Murray) opens the play with palpable lethargy. If "Of
government the properties to unfold \ Would seem in me t'affect speech
and discourse" then the Duke must be bored beyond all description. He
imparts such a pallor of dullness that the play never recovers. This
Duke barks at one and all and has no sense of the too kind, too gentle,
too lenient sovereign which the text calls for. I was particularly
offended (yes, offended) by the acting choices in the 3.1 scene between
the Duke and Claudio. The barking seemed worst here. There was no
sense of a cleric providing spiritual guidance to a doomed man. I was
more reminded of a Christian Fundamentalist preacher delivering a "hell
fire and brimstone" sermon. The overall effect of all this barking
creates a totally unlikable Duke. Why Isabella should choose to marry
this Duke cannot be explained.
Angelo was played by Richard Thomas. (Yes, "John-Boy" Walton.) He was
easily the most enjoyable actor to watch. He brought depth and humanity
to Angelo. He is appropriately demur at first, but quickly dives into
his new office. However, he lingers too long, in my opinion, in his
speech at the beginning of 2.4. And in the final scene there is very
little remorse shown that would justify the Duke's pardon.
Claudio (Hamish Linklater) also makes strange acting choices. In 3.1 he
goes from total apathy (as opposed to resignation) to desperation in a
heartbeat. He never tries to entice his sister into accepting Angelo's
bargain, but verbally (and nearly physically) assaults her.
The lingering I mentioned permeates the play. The entire production is
filled with dead space, slowly delivered lines and lack of energy.
I feel quite odd in panning a production by the founder of the Royal
Shakespeare Company. I am merely a computer geek who dabbles at
literature studies and amateur acting. However, I do know that I was
less than thrilled by this production. I can also say that the balcony
section which was probably 80% full at the curtain was half empty after
the intermission. I was clearly not the only audience member dismayed
by the production.