By Holli Harms
It’s a New Orleans Mardi Gras and the streets of the Big Easy are full of debauchery on top of more debauchery.
Shakespeare’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE at The Public Theatre, directed by LA Williams, performed by The Mobile Unit is depravity and power, lies and deceit, and so good it moves along like rolling thunder. The first #metoo play written some 400 plus years ago.
Angelo ( Adrian Kiser) has been appointed temporary Duke whilst the real man in charge, The “Real” Duke (Grace Porter), takes a break. The “Real” Duke feels that the people have gotten away with too much – too much drinking, carousing, a brothel on every street corner, and since he was the guy who let it all fall apart it would be odd for him to be the one to rein it all back in.
So steps in the perfect citizen, the upstanding man about town, Angelo, brought in to bring order back to the city. Angelo sees himself pretty much as a saint and so does everyone else. Angelo, who’s now in charge, orders the execution of Claudio (Lily Santiago) for having gotten his fiancee’ Juliet (Nora Carroll) pregnant out of wedlock. But when Angelo, the proprietor of decency and order, meets Claudio’s sister Isabella (Jasmine Batchelor) who comes to him to try and win her brother’s freedom, well, he ends up building a “bargain” for Isabella putting her brother’s life in her hands. Angelo says to this young woman have sex with him and her brother is saved. Ah hypocrisy! And, oh, did I mention that Isabella is about to become a nun to an order whose vows of silence are very strict and do not allow any interaction with men.
Isabella ends up opposing Angelo and says she will tell how he has tried to bribe her with her brother’s life for sex, but Angelo says, “Who will believe you?” Isabella cries out “To whom should I complain?” She denounces this abuse of power by saying, “It is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous To use it like a giant”.
But who comes along to convince Isabella she should agree to sleep with Angelo, why the Real Duke in Friar’s costume. He is privy to Angelo’s plot and so in his pious disguise, he ingratiates himself into Isabella’s trust to convince her of a plot he has demised – say yes to Angelo, but really it will be Angelo’s former fiancee’ Mariana (Latonia Phipps) who will sleep with Angelo. Isabella will free her brother and Mariana will marry Angelo to whom she was promised. And the Real Duke well, he too is under Isabella’s spell and desires to wed her.
The men are all playing games and leading the women on and holding things over them and all for sex.
This is truly a Measure for Measure for the times. This all-female cast is not backing down. They are out to entertain and roar! Hear them roar! And they are having as much fun as we are! This cast is a powerhouse of women. All multi-talented actors, dancers, musicians, and comedians of the first order. They are strong, funny and they are turning the place right side up.
The male narcissistic bully is on display and in this production, the women are taking the bull by the horns, reining it in and sending it packing!
The Mobile Unit has been taking Shakespeare’s works out to the boroughs of NYC for the past nine years. Two different shows a year and all free. They travel to the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens and end their tour at The Public where there it is also free. This was Joe Papp’s original idea, get Shakespeare out there because Shakespeare is for everyone. I was honored to see The Mobile Unit’s Measure For Measure at the beginning of its tour at a recreation Center in Queens. A lot of seniors who do not travel past their own few blocks and a group of neurodiverse teens were there to watch Measure for Measure on the basketball court with no lights, no sound but that which the glorious cast produced with a saxophone and whistle, drums, voices, chants and call-and-response and they the audience were all engaged. The seniors told me that they try to never miss a Mobile Unit show and that they are so glad that The Public is doing this for them. The Public Theater sending its shows with professional performers to them. The Mobile Unit performs at Rec centers and places where people are incarcerated and unable to come to the theatre. I have a framed quote in my apartment, a quote from Vanessa Redgrave, it says, “Theatre Helps People Keep Sane.” I agree. I also believe and have witnessed theatre change people for the better. You bring yourself, your talents, you give them 110 percent, as this cast and every Mobile Unit cast I have seen do, and it means something to those you have shown up for.
Shakespeare’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE directed by LA Williams.
With:Jasmine Batchelor (Isabella), Nora Carroll (Escalus/Juliet), Toccarra Cash (Lucio), Alfie Fuller (Pompey), Adrian Kiser (Angelo), Gabrielle Murphy(Provost), Lily Santiago (Claudio/Elbow), Latonia Phipps (Mariana/Overdone), and Grace Porter(Duke) Jacqueline Nwabueze (Understudy),
MEASURE FOR MEASURE features scenic design by Yu-Hsuan Chen, costume design by Asa Benally, music composition by Jeffery Miller, choreography by Mayte Natalio, and fight and intimacy direction by Michael Rossmy and Kelsey Rainwater.
Furthering the mission of making great theater accessible to all, tickets to the MOBILE UNIT’s run at The Public Theater are FREE and are available via TodayTix mobile lottery and in-person distribution downtown at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place. On each public performance date, free tickets will be distributed in-person beginning 90 minutes prior to curtain, and via mobile lottery on the TodayTix app. Download the TodayTix app to enter or visit The Public Theater for more information.