Through Sunday, Jan. 27
Raleigh Little Theatre, Raleigh
In Measure for Measure, currently running at Raleigh Little Theatre, Vincentio (Nathan Bradshaw), the Duke of Vienna, takes a temporary leave and places judge Angelo (Wade Newhouse) in charge. Angelo, a strict interpreter of the law, condemns a young man named Claudio (Christopher McBennett) to death for impregnating his beloved Juliet (Rebecca Nelsen). Appalled and terrified, Claudio’s sister, Isabella (Rosemary Richards), appeals to the judge to spare her brother’s life. Upon this meeting, Angelo detects within himself the very lust he’s trying to oppress in his society. From there, it’s a story of betrayals, power, and family, all told through the rich tapestry of Shakespearean dialect.
Speaking of, the words of the playwright are thrust from the actors’ throats with vigor and dedication. Most of them seem genuine and natural, as if they lived and breathed this way of speaking. We saw a few small instances of actors stumbling over lines, but they were very minor, and the rehearsal of the entire cast—including a few very talented youngsters—is to be commended.
In the spirit of modernity, the casting choices of director Rebecca Blum are delightfully diverse. The pimp Pompey Bum is portrayed by a teenage actress (Caroline Farmer), and a handful of preteen talents play sly jokes and crude remarks for humor. But the funniest part of the ensemble would have to be Benjamin Tarlton as Claudio’s friend Lucio—his eccentric mannerisms and free-spirited approach to serious circumstances are a breath of fresh air, and give the audience a chance to relax in a play that would otherwise be wholly serious and tragic.
Regarding these serious topics—including sexual manipulation, the attempted coercion of family to do unspeakable things, and a man reveling all too comfortably in his position of power—the true highlight is the tension of the interactions between Newhouse and Richards. (Raleigh Little Theatre hired an intimacy director to help create them safely.) You will hold your breath at the pure villainy and helplessness portrayed by the pair. Both of them give monologues while their faces gleam under a violet light. At some point in these speeches, in one way or another, you’ll shiver.
Raleigh Little Theatre’s adaptation of this less-famous Shakespeare play is almost perfection, in both its entertainment value and its messages, drawing startling parallels between the disturbing imagery onstage and our own political climate. We’ve long ago settled the debate of Shakespeare’s relevance to the modern day in the immortal playwright’s favor, but to see this seventeenth-century play in these scandalous times is nevertheless a jarring experience. In the throes of #MeToo, it underscores that unwanted sexual advances, especially from positions of power, will not go without repercussions. This is not the standard, romanticized Shakespearean comedy we’re used to seeing, which might make it unsuitable for certain audiences and young children, but it’s worth the price of admission for anyone who loves theater that throws away the curtain and puts the spotlight on harsh realities.