…or, what about the “Hmm” factor?
Now that the initial reviews are out for the Goodman’s Measure for Measure and I’ve had some time for the show to percolate, I have some thoughts.
(Possible spoilers follow for those who’ve not yet seen the show. You have been warned!)
I liked a good deal of this production: the choice of setting worked very well, with stunning sets, lights, and music. I can get behind accentuating the comic aspects of the text, too, since quite often M4M productions that take themselves too seriously end up being rather dreary. The ensemble movement work between scenes was gorgeous, and some of the acting work was impressive, though some seemed a bit at a loss…and this was where I started “hmm”-ing to myself.
For instance, in the prison scene between the disguised Duke and Claudio, the Duke’s long speech about the miseries of life is often delivered as an attempt to persuade the young man to accept his doom– here it’s given as an introspective rumination, as if the Duke forgets that he has someone to whom he’s supposed to be speaking. By the end of it, Claudio just looks bored, and the audience is generally lost. Similarly, if Claudio is a genuine part of Lucio and Pompey’s world, rather than a nobleman who’s erred, then do his sister’s appeals to honour have any chance at all of working? If not, wouldn’t she know that already? She’s too intelligent to choose a tactic that’s doomed to fail, isn’t she?
I was also left wondering what the purpose of the play’s action was within the framework of the setting– if the Duke is wracked with guilt (as he seems to be) at the play’s outset for letting the law slip so often, why does he let corruption continue while he’s in disguise, why go through the complex intricacies of the bed-trick, why swap one man’s head for another, and why manipulate Isabella so hideously at the end of the play? One of the problems this notorious “problem play” presents is the need for a justification of all these extremes, and this production doesn’t seem to have one. Several of these moments in the show are funny, to be sure, but I was puzzled by what seemed to be a lack of motivation for them besides entertainment.
Which leads me to the ending. Ah, the by-now-famous ending, which attempts to put a radical twist on the work as the curtain falls.
On the one hand, I salute Mr. Falls and the entire cast for wanting to try something new and taking on that challenge. The ending as they’ve staged it certainly fits in with the setting and framework they’ve chosen; plus, it’s guaranteed to have audiences talking about the production for days afterwards (as I and my companions did), which is no small thing.
Yes… and yet, there’s a problem here. For on the other hand, the text of the play sets up a very difficult conundrum for any given cast to solve: how will Isabella choose? For choose she must, but at what cost? Is there even a ‘right’ answer for her? The Goodman’s staging, innovative though it is, simply eliminates the issue entirely, which is a kind of cheating, really: if there is no need to choose, then the fraught nature of the ending vanishes, and the party simply goes on in full swing. We’re no longer faced with the tension of virtue and vice, as a result: vice wins, and everyone dances to Donna Summer while the world remains utterly unchanged by recent events.
If nothing changes, once the music stops and the applause fades I do start to wonder what we sat through all of this for. I left feeling a bit like Madeleine L’Engle’s Charles Wallace on Camazotz: presented with a lovely-looking turkey dinner that ended up tasting of sand.