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Tucson Weekly Shakespeare Measures Up

UA's Current Version of Shakespeare's 'Measure for Measure'

By Dave Irwin

MARCH 22, 1999:  UPDATING THE BARD, like messing with Mozart's music, is risky business; but the UA's current version of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure demonstrates a wise move. While leaving the plot intact, director Harold Dixon has concentrated on creating a stunning visual presentation that makes the play palatable for a contemporary audience more attuned to sight than sound. In his editing, he's also made the dialogue less obtuse without losing the general flavor or rhythms of Elizabethan language.

Staged in the flexible Laboratory Theatre, the performance area extends in a T-shape form from a two-story scaffold into the audience. Dixon, the artistic director of the UA Repertory Theatre troupe, opens by having the entire 20-plus company stream onto the stage from entrances throughout the theatre for a flame-lit moment of pomp and spectacle. Having announced just how big this production is, the action begins.

Since the plot is based on fornication outside of wedlock being punishable by death, you can see why this work may not strike much resonance these days. When the Duke tests Angelo by leaving him in charge while the Duke disappears to observe incognito, Angelo decides that beheading Claudio for getting his fiancée pregnant would be a good message to the populace that the Christian Right is now in control. However, when Claudio's sister, Isabella, turns up begging for mercy, Angelo goes Swaggert and tries to jump her bones. Some two hours and dozens of characters later, everything turns out okay.

The hallmark of this production is the exceptionally innovative scene design by David Nofsinger, further enhanced by Mark Hanneman's thoughtfully integrated lighting. Among the notable assets: at least eight different stage entrances; a metal honeycomb deck that allows spotlighting from underneath; changeable recessed frames; a gas fire pit which effectively simulates a campfire; hanging frames with chains for the dungeon scenes; and billowing, (and even condom-like) white silk columns hanging from the ceiling. The production is awash with motion.

As Isabella, musical theatre junior Michelle Lane gives an impeccable and mesmerizing verbal performance. Ralph Valencia, Jr. (as Angelo) anguishes in the finest William Shatner tradition. Also stealing scenes (and sporting codpieces that would make Mick Jagger envious) are Tate Allen as comic pimp Pompey, and Dean Nigro as the delightfully foppish Lucio.

Good acting all around, with extremely high production values, taut whirlwind staging and very creative design, UA Rep's Measure For Measure breathes new life into an antiquated tale. This is a must-see for anyone concerned with the kind of education our next generation of actors and theatre crews are receiving.

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