Mary Zimmerman has directed “Measure
for Measure” as the comedy it is, not at all worried that so many
critics call it “dark” and “difficult.” Billy Crudup, whose
screen credits include “Almost Famous” is a youthful Angelo, which
makes a difference. Of this young moralist it is said that
he “scarce confesses that his blood flows” his blood,
quips Lucio, being “very snow-broth.” Because Angelo “doth rebate
and blunt his natural edge/ With profits of the mind, study, and
fast,” the Duke of Vienna decides to put him in charge.
Leaving town, the Duke will test his righteous-seeming deputy
to discover “if power change purpose, what our seemers be.”
Because he is young, Mr. Crudup makes credible
both his “seeming” virtuous because he has never been tempted,
and his sudden desire for Isabella (Sanaa Lathan), a novitiate.
Her mission to Angelo is to beg for the life of her brother (Daniel
Pino) who has committed the sin of fornication, which Angelo is
punishing with death, applying an old, dormant law.
As the production stresses the comedy, it
presents only sketchily the corruption in Vienna that the Duke
complains he has seen “boil and bubble,” hence his turning over
the rule to Angelo to enforce the laws. The vices, like snorting
cocaine, are lightly treated, and the odd assortment of debauched
types are more comic than sinister. Froth (Daniel Pearce),
that “butterfly of the brothel” is a nervous frequenter of Mistress
Overdone’s (Julia Gibson) establishment, while Pompey the “bawd”
(Christopher Evan Welch) is a good-natured bloke, always optimistic,
as when he advises the madam that when Angelo orders the brothels
to be pulled down, “though you change your place, you need not
change your trade.” And Lucio (John Pankow), the destroyer of
reputations, is more a swaggerer than an evil gossip. Ms.
Zimmerman easily resolves the question of the Duke’s last-minute
proposal to Isabella; she has him indicate immediately that he
has a more than fatherly interest in her.
The set by Daniel Ostling charmingly blends
with the surrounding nature, with its leafy trees in cages, a
symbol contrasting nature restrained with nature free. Shakespeare,
as always, finds the happy medium between them.