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Measure for Measure

- Backstage with the Playwrights: On Location

Measure for Measure
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
On Navy Pier
800 East Grand Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60611

Barbara Gaines: Artistic Director
Chriss Henderson: Executive Director
By William Shakespeare

Greg Vinkler, Jay Whittaker, Dana Green, Sean Fortunato,
Kevin Gudahl, Felicia P. Fields, Daniel Allar, Patrick Clear, Will Clinger, Dan Loftus, James Vincent Meredith, Matt Schwader, Robert Scogin, Tom Taylor, Karissa Vacker, Karen Woditsch,
Gary Wingert, Lili-Anne Brown, Page Deulin, Dan Kenney, Brian Koester, Amy Matheny, Mark Berls, Paul Wagarski

Director: Barbara Gaines
Scenic Designer: Neil Patel
Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind
Costume Design: Virgil C. Johnson
Wigs and Make-up Design: Melissa Veal
Sound Design: David Van Tieghem
Properties: Keith Hoop
Composer: Alaric Jans
Additional Lyrics: Cheri Coons
Choreographer: Rachel Rockwell
Fight Choreographer: Robin McFarquhar
Text Coach: Kate Buckley
Vocal Coach: Stewart Pearce
Vocal Coach: Kristine Thatcher
Casting: Bob Mason
Production Stage Manager: Deborah Acker
Public Relations: Jasen Woehrle
Sponsorship: Julie and Parker Hall
Official Airline: American Airlines

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 29. 2005

When is a comedy not terribly funny? When it’s Measure for Measure, now through March 20, 2005 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier.

Long termed a “problem” play because of the difficult content and ambiguous resolution to the characters’ dilemmas, this unusual production makes the best that it can of Shakespeare’s material.

Turn-of-the-century Vienna is the setting for corruption and decadence under the rule of its lax prince, Duke Vincentio. As laissez-faire chaperones anywhere are adored by their charges, so is the Duke much loved by his country people, who’ve long been untrammeled by the consequences of laws.

As in many of his other plays, Shakespeare filled Measure for Measure with familiar features. The social classes are represented from top to bottom, from the Duke, to Isabel and Claudio, to the brothel drabs. There is bawdy word play, and some lofty language. Identities are switched and then revealed. There are eloquent speeches, primarily those of Isabel, pleading to save her brother. By the conclusion, proper order is restored. Almost.

Immense metal doors with huge X’s in their centers frame all the action. As metaphors, one may make of them what one will. Do they “cross out” vice? Are they a representation of Isabel’s strength, or are they the barriers against which she batters herself in the pursuit of mercy? Perhaps Angelo’s absolutist, unbending nature is symbolized.

Whores, clothed in wigs and costumes we associate with paintings depicting Moulin Rouge denizens, service customers and insinuate themselves into the audience. It may be Shakespeare, but this writer thought it was rough going for several pre-adolescent children present. Parents! Use discretion! There is a great matinee program geared to kids.

A neon cross let us know the setting was Isabel’s convent. “CAFÉ” spelled out in light bulbs, informed us we were in the bordello. Like Baz Luhrmann’s flashy use of neon and signage, the effect with the whores, with their bawdy songs, with the acres of bosoms and butts, was over the top. One supposes that was the purpose.

A couple of lampposts, an iron staircase, and a catwalk-like scaffolding at the height of the set, were practically the only scenery. A miasma of smoke coiled itself like the fumes of absinthe, just above the actors. There was a near palpable atmosphere of moral sickness in the air.

A rude awakening quickly befalls harlots and pimps and others of their ilk, (though some not as openly flaunting the laws), when the Duke leaves his city. He takes the political expedient of appointing Angelo to administer the letter of the law in his absence.

In so going, he opens the door to themes of justice, mercy, corruption through misuse of power, and many problems that are not satisfyingly concluded at the play’s end. These themes remain as germane to our time as to Shakespeare’s.

I felt the most poignant issue was the notion of giving a voice to victims. Four hundred years post Shakespeare, we have ombudsmen, patient advocates, and friends of the court, to assist those who might otherwise not be heard. Isabel was forced to argue the cause of several characters caught in Angelo’s web of reform. Whether she was effective in her own behalf, remained one of the unanswered questions.

Sean Fortunato brought great animation to his role of Lucio, the libertine. His height and presence, abetted by his salmon pink frock coat, focused attention upon him. Given to lies and exaggeration, he twisted his body and contorted his face in the way naughty boys have learned will best gain them attention, or the forgiveness they almost always need.

Measure for Measure is too dark and too lacking in resolution to say one enjoys it. That it will provoke debate as well as invite modern-day parallels, gives it relevance beyond its place in the canon. This play moves us to anger or pity and forces us to feel something. That is one measure of its value as art.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater is a sparkling jewel on Navy Pier. Window expanses display the sweep of Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan. As one looks out from either of the two levels, the view is heavenly. During intermission, one may also browse at the well-stocked bookstore or watch videos of previous productions that will make one want to sign up for membership immediately! Something delicious is available from the pub where drinks may be pre-ordered, or from refreshment stands. A cordoned-off, funky, neon-colored painting depicting Shakespeare’s head three times over, by the late, great Chicago artist, Ed Pashke, ( takes pride of place in the lobby.

Two performances that are either audio described or “duo-sign interpreted,” are scheduled for those who wish to use these accommodations.

The Duke (Greg Vinkler - left) disguised as a friar, discusses a strategy with Isabel (Dana Green - right) to free her brother.
Photo courtesy of Liz Lauren

Owners of the Cafe Vienna, Mistress Overdone (Felicia P. Fields - left) and Pompey (Kevin Gudahl - right) sing about "Hard Times."
Photo courtesy of Liz Lauren

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at