Sunday’s performance of the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival’s “Measure for Measure” is at 3:30 p.m. A review of the show yesterday on page D8 gave the incorrect time. In addition, cast member Stephen Mead starred as Shylock in the festival’s 2008 production of “The Merchant of Venice.” The review gave the name of the play as “Shylock.”
When Stephen Mead starred as Shylock in the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival’s production of "The Merchant of Venice" in 2008, he brought to life every facet in the character of one of Shakespeare’s most complicated villains. Mead returns this year again as a villain – although a less complicated and more comical one – playing the pivotal role of Angelo in the festival’s production of "Measure for Measure."
The action starts when Duke Vincentio leaves Angelo to rule Vienna while he attends to matters of state elsewhere. A law on the books makes "fornication" a capital offense, and although Duke Vincentio has not enforced it, Angelo decides that public morality will be best served by executing a young nobleman named Claudio for that offense. Claudio’s guilt is obvious – his fiancee, Juliet, is soon to give birth.
Claudio’s friend Lucio takes a message from death row to the condemned man’s sister, Isabella, a novice nun, begging her to go to Angelo and plead for mercy.
Isabella, young and innocent, does so. Angelo, who appears to have been a pillar of moral rectitude until that moment, falls deeply in lust with her. After much hemming and hawing, he tells Isabella he will spare her brother’s life in exchange for her virginity – in other words, committing the same act with Isabella for which Claudio was sentenced to death.
Mead’s work in the scenes where Angelo confronts his newfound feelings of lust and desire are beautifully played. The actor’s finesse as a comic villain in his scenes with Danielle Vivarttas-Ahrnsbrak (Isabella) is equally impressive.
Vivarttas-Ahrnsbrak earns her place as the female star of the story. She has several strong scenes opposite Mead, but the role also includes a scene with Nicholas Atiburico (Claudio) in which the doomed man breaks down in tears and tells his sister that if sacrificing her virginity will save his life, then she should do so.
‘MEASURE FOR MEASURE’
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She is horrified yet forced to review her thoughts on the matter. Vivarttas-Ahrnsbrak also rings true in that scene.
ONLY THE AUDIENCE and one of the secondary characters knows the Duke hasn’t left town at all and is instead playing puppet-master with Angelo and the others while disguised as Friar Lodowick – a man of the cloth with a preternatural ability to be in the right place at the right time and persuade everyone to do his bidding.
Reb Beau Allen (Duke Vincentio) has shown over the years that he can play leading men, thugs and diverse other character types with equal skill. Here he has the opportunity to develop two contrasting characters.
Although Mead, Vivarttas-Ahrnsbrak and Allen have the most interesting characters, several other actors also are memorable. Nathan Robinson (Lucio) is right on as an annoying loudmouth who obviously wants Isabella as his own next sexual conquest; Lucio talks trash about the Duke to Friar Lodowick and then bad-mouths Lodowick to the Duke.
Victoria Berg (Mariana) brings the timing of a seasoned comedian to her portrayal of the woman Angelo dumped several years previously after her dowry was lost in a shipwreck. Todd Aquino-Michaels (Provost) catches the eye as the law enforcement officer/jailer bound by law to obey Angelo’s orders but persuaded to do Friar Lodowick’s bidding instead.
Director Linda Johnson boosts the comic impact of several scenes by having various characters pause a beat before delivering the last word in a line and then saying the final word almost as if it is a separate thought. Several members of the cast used it to crowd-pleasing effect on opening night.
Johnson and costume designer Alexis Leon move the story from 16th-century Vienna to sometime "in the near future." The costumes are interesting, but since there are places in the world today where certain consensual sex acts are capital crimes, she could just as easily have dressed the cast accordingly.