Shakespeare never looked so sexy with a quartet of scantily clad strippers dressed in fishnet stockings, fluorescent tinted wigs and not much else for the opening of the theatre and dance production Measure for Measure.
“We wanted to help set the mood,” said director and second-year Master of Fine Arts (MFA) student Randy Symank, “[and] we wanted to give a peek inside a brothel.“
The quartet of gorgeous and leggy beauties cast their sublime shadows over the four matching pillars directly behind them and established the provocative and daring style desired by its director. And as sexy as the opening scene of the Symank’s interpretation of Measure for Measure, he also underlined Shakespeare’s timeless social commentary on transparent government and the role of supposed moral politicians.
“I wanted to show how relevant the [Shakespearean] script is even 400 years later,” Symank said. “I wanted to draw attention to political corruption and the effects of a politician.“
Measure for Measure tells the story of a morally corrupt Vienna under the rule of the duke played by first-year MFA student Timothy Orr. The duke abdicates his city and allows the law enforcing deputy Angelo, played by second-year MFA student Jesse Merz, to clean up Vienna.
Meanwhile, the duke returns to the city he loves so dearly, but under the disguise of a friar to observe his replacement clean up Vienna. Under the guise of moral righteousness, Angelo begins to rid the city of its corruption, as when he catches petty corruptors such as Claudio, who had premarital sex with his consenting lover.
In spite of his desire to rid Vienna of its immorality, Angelo falls prey to one of the seven deadly sins. He lusts after Claudio’s sister Isabella – who is an aspiring nun – played by first-year English and dramatic arts major Gia Battista. Lust overrides morality, and Angelo promises to free Claudio if the virtuous Isabella will sleep with him.
“[The character Angelo] has lots of levels and gray [areas],” Merz said. “He is a good guy who makes mistakes … and a politician being a hypocrite.“
Symank pointed out the similarity between the play and recent headlines like the sex scandals of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, Senator Larry Craig of Idaho and former House of Representative Mark Foley. Orr agreed and said he felt the hypocrisy of Angelo was reminiscent of the current state of American politics.
“Shakespeare is relevant only if we make it relevant,” Orr said. “A lot of the things Shakespeare grappled with are universal.“
Symank made several adjustments to update his adaptation of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. He placed the plot in present-day Vienna and had his actors dressed in pantsuits, while the addition of the strippers left nothing to the imagination of the seedy city of Vienna.
However, Symank’s boldest experiment was having his actors sing the several of the lines of Shakespeare.
“I wanted to show use music to remind the audience of the [Isabella’s] predicament,“ Symank said.
Though Shakespeare never intended to have his lines sung, the numbers add yet another layer of complexity to Symank‘s vision. Isabella is choreographed alone on stage and sings away her alienation.
“It was an interesting choice because I had never done that for Shakespeare,” Battista said.
The political overtones are further accentuated by Orr’s comedic delivery. Switching between the duke to the friar, Orr seamlessly points out the hypocrisy of Angelo. In showing the corruption of a public figure in office, Orr and the rest of the cast communicate how the complexity of government by people, and of the people, is not always for the people.
Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure will finish its two-week run this weekend and wrap up Saturday at 8 p.m. at Main Theatre. Tickets are $15 for non-students and $10 for students and can be purchased at the door or in advance at the ticket office.
The department of theatre and dance has a new production opening this weekend with a preview this evening at 8 p.m. in the Wyatt Pavilion Theatre.
JACKSON YAN can be reached at email@example.com.