There is a grove in Toronto’sHigh Park, surrounded by trees and bounded by greenery where you can find atheatre. The semi-circles of concrete steps that you will sit on may remind youof an ancient Greek or Roman theatre that has seen better days. It may not be Epidaurusbut it is Canadian and Canadian Stage has been producing Shakespeare there fordecades.
This summer’s offerings are Measurefor Measure and Much Ado About Nothing. Measurehas been redacted so that it can be performed in ninety minutes with nointermission. You get the core of the play without many details that will requiretwice as long to perform. Sitting on a thin cushion on a hard surface, it maybe as long as you can endure.
Measure for Measure, directedby Severn Thompson, is amazingly well done. It is a fast-paced and well-actedproduction that makes for perfect theatre under the stars. Severn has little respectfor the gender of some characters and has cast women in men’s roles for noapparent reason. It has become almost de rigueur to have transgender castingand I hope the fashion will soon disappear. Doing the play with about a dozenactors required some doubling up so the gender-blind casting may be simply foreconomic reasons.
The production opens with thecast coming down the aisle chanting a faltering “Kyrie eleison” and when theyreach the stage we hear Angelo (Christopher Morris) orating about morality inwords not written by Shakespeare. Why? Shakespeare’s play begins where themoral but ineffective Duke (Allan Louis) delegates his powers to tough Angelo whocan be trusted to enforce the strict morality laws of Vienna.
The main serious plotline is theattempt by Isabella (Natasha Mumba) to persuade Angelo not to execute herbrother Claudio (Richard Lam). He has been condemned to death for sleeping withhis fiancée Juliet (Emma Ferreira). The stern and moral Angelo is intent onenforcing the law but he is sexually attracted to the novice nun Isabella andwants to bed her. Thompson has Isabella place her hand over Angelo’s heartduring her pleas for clemency and one can see him getting aroused. A well donescene.
Measure for Measure has a large cast of colourful and comiccharacters from the debauched side of Vienna. They are pimps, prostitutes andbrothel keepers, delightful low-lives who are worried about their professional turf.The brothel keeper Mistress Overdone (Nora McLellan), her pimp Pompey (Heath V.Salazar) the extravagant Lucio (Emilio Vieira) who has contacted syphiliticdiseases galore, the convict Bernadine (McLellan) who is too drunk to beexecuted, make up the collection. And there is constable Elbow (Jamie Robinson),not too swift and able to butcher the English language uproariously.
The cast does superb work withthis motley collection of characters. We are no doubt concerned with Isabella’svirtue, Claudio’s and Juliet’s fate and the course of justice in Vienna but theworld of pimps and prostitutes is a lot more fun.
The single two-story set byJoanna Yu with an iron door and graffiti suggests the seedy side of Vienna andis quite appropriate.
Measure for Measure hasbeen classified as a “problem comedy” and the final scene is a problem for meto watch. The Duke comes in and out of his disguise; Angelo is ordered to marryMariana (his former fiancée who became the last minute switch for Isabella inhis bed: Lucio is ordered to marry aprostitute and the Duke asks Isabella to marry him. Yikes.
You may not want to worry aboutall those details and simply enjoy the production and the pizza or other foodthat you brought to the theatre.
Measure for Measureby William Shakespeare, in a Canadian Stage production in collaborationwith the Department of Theatre, School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Designat York University, continues in repertory until September 1, 2019 in the HighPark Amphitheatre, High Park, 1873 Bloor St W. Toronto, Ont. www.canadianstage.com