MEASURE FOR MEASURE (Lantern): A Gchat review

Christopher Munden is the editor and publisher of Phindie. Julius Ferraro just stepped down as editor of thINKingDANCE; he was previously theater editor at Phindie. Julius and Chris went to the opening of Lantern Theater Company’s production of MEASURE FOR MEASURE and talked about it the next day on Gchat.

Written by William Shakespeare and directed by Charles McMahon, the play tells the story of a Duke (Anthony Lawton) who gives up his power to the supposedly unimpeachable nobleman Angelo (Ben Dibble), and observes the state of the city dressed up a humble priest. He is forced to intervene when Angelo demands the virginity of novitiate nun Isabella (Claire Inie-Richards) in return for commuting the death sentence harshly and hypocritically placed on her brother Claudio (Chris Anthony) for infidelity. Kirk Wendell Brown, Adam Hammet, Jered McLenigan, and Charlotte Northeast also star.

[Lantern Theater Company, 10th and Ludlow Streets] March 14-April 21, 2019; lanterntheater.org

Ben Dibble and Claire Inie-Richards in Lantern Theater Company's production of MEASURE FOR MEASURE  by William Shakespeare, directed by Charles McMahon.  Photo by Mark Garvin.

Ben Dibble and Claire Inie-Richards in Lantern Theater Company’s production of MEASURE FOR MEASURE by William Shakespeare, directed by Charles McMahon. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Christopher Munden
Hey you wanna chat about play?
Julius Ferraro
Totally I’ve got the hottest of takes fired up in my hot take oven.
Theater is trash and no one should waste their time with it.
Christopher Munden
Yeah. So what do you like about Shakespeare?
Julius Ferraro
Is it possible to answer that question without sounding like an idiot?
Christopher Munden
You can also sound like a pretentious dick
Julius Ferraro
I like Shakespeare’s language, I like that his characters are complex enough (or as you mentioned the other day, unfinished enough) that they can be interpreted over time.
What do you like about Shakespeare?
Christopher Munden
It’s hard to summarize but I like to say it comes down to two things: his poetry and his insight into human psychology and relationships
Julius Ferraro
I really enjoy READING Shakespeare, because he has gorgeous, rich, truly literary texts.
Christopher Munden
I like reading Shakespeare too but I more like seeing him staged, because those words ring when said aloud and those interactions can become apparent when enacted by real people.
Julius Ferraro
What do you like about the Lantern?
Christopher Munden
I think the Lantern’s Shakespeare productions are always coherent theater and always pay attention to the language and don’t put an annoying stamp on the plays
What don’t you like about the Lantern?
Julius Ferraro
Well, I haven’t seen a lot recently, though I used to go more often. They belong to a class of theaters which play that role for me: tried ‘em, passed on ‘em. So there’s that caveat.
But I don’t think that this production argued for the existence of theater very much. Lots of people sat patiently through it, like a bad church service. I saw their gracious faces as they let it happen to them. Those who don’t go often will walk out thinking That’s basically what I expected, though they probably won’t ever say that.
IMG-4797Christopher Munden
You mean it was like Denzel Washington’s Fences: a fine classroom version?
Julius Ferraro
. . . if you want to teach kids to hate theater.
I think the way that this production refused to ask any interesting questions about the play, or to go very deep into the contradictions of the characters, is something that irks me about theater in general.
Christopher Munden
Yeah, the Duke is an asshole right? He skips town, he tells Isabella her bro is dead, he tries to marry her at the end. That’s a complex character and he was well played line-by-line or even scene-by-scene but he wasn’t played as a complex character
Julius Ferraro
Yeah, fine acting from some very talented performers, no directorial thought.
This is a play, a text, which is either supremely immoral, badly structured, or very challenging.
The production refused to ask which, and just played it straight.
Christopher Munden
Yeah that’s accurate, though I’d say nihilistic not immoral
Julius Ferraro
And the final moment I think bespoke the biggest hypocrisy or laziness about the production, and this brand of theater
it spat in the face of the text by adding a three-word epithet but didn’t even have the guts to say the whole word, cut it off before the final offensive frickative “ck”
Christopher Munden
Right, this is not an electronic recording
You can’t cut like that. Or you can but don’t.
Julius Ferraro
Seriously. I mean, what if they added a whole scene?
What if they dug into why Isabella is so “good” instead of making her stupidly good?
Christopher Munden
Is there something in the text even? Something that could be emphasized?
Julius Ferraro
No, I’m pretty sure that’s the end of the play, right?
Christopher Munden
I meant something earlier in the text that would allow Isabella to be better developed
Doesn’t the play end with that great line
Thoughts are no subjects. Intents, but merely thoughts
Julius Ferraro
Oh no, it ends with the Duke’s line: So, bring us to our palace; where we’ll show
What’s yet behind, that’s meet you all should know.
They cut it, added in a line for her, “What the fuh.”
“Thoughts are no subjects” is Isabella’s last line, a couple minutes before.
I mean, look. Four hundred years ago, the image of a good woman was virtuous, long-suffering, forgiving, and the only other kind of a woman was a bad one. So putting her through all this, very patronizing, was seen as basically fine. That’s my diagnosis of the original play.
Christopher Munden
Shakespeare doesn’t just have two types of women
Julius Ferraro
I know
But it’s so demeaning, I think, to play all those other scenes straight, and then add that final tack on the end to defend their left flank.
For instance, when she goes to beseech Angelo the first time, and Lucio is feeding lines to her again and again, urging her on. Or, as you mentioned, all of the Duke’s really horrible actions towards her in the second act.
Christopher Munden
After the first act, I was real impressed by the actor who played Isabella, her intensity, her strength. But she hit that plateau of distress and stayed there throughout the second act. Isabella’s good, she’s long-suffering, what else is she?
Julius Ferraro
Yeah, I mean, make a fucking choice.
Again, what’s the pathology of goodness? Gimme some interest. I have no idea why that Isabella was so “good”, she just was. Which made that scene where she beseeched Angelo and Lucio pushed her along really strange. She doesn’t come off as stupid or shy or even anxious, so why does she need his urging? And she didn’t get frustrated or annoyed with him. She doesn’t even seem “long-suffering”, she’s just going about her business.
Christopher Munden
I wondered, is her goodness sexy? I know I’m being like “yes but what was she wearing”, but the production didn’t really examine what about her is so attractive to Angelo and Duke?

 Anthony Lawton and Ben Dibble in MEASURE FOR MEASURE. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Anthony Lawton and Ben Dibble in MEASURE FOR MEASURE. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Julius Ferraro
I have no idea why Angelo was attracted but I can come up with a few ways it could have been played or explored, and you’d think that a director who spent a long time on it could come up with better ones.
This play always reminds me a bit of the Judge in the George Hearn / Patti LuPone Sweeney Todd, and the self-flagellation scene in particular. That’s a production that wasn’t afraid to find the pathology in the characters. All of the characters in the Lantern production act like they’re perfectly mentally healthy. There’s no pathology, there’s no reason to be doing what they’re doing.
Christopher Munden
These characters are opaque as written, but I think you’re right that the production wasn’t interested in exploring that opaqueness
To me, that was most apparent in the role of Angelo, who delivered each line well and was a strong presence within scenes, but was almost a different character each scene
Julius Ferraro
Yeah, there really wasn’t a logic or a unity to his character.
But I am tempted to put this on the director, because it was so uniform, and because the performers obviously have chops.
Christopher Munden
It’s a problem play and TS Eliot might say maybe the problems are on Shakespeare…
Julius Ferraro
Well Shakespeare didn’t decide to produce the play at the Lantern in March 2019
He wrote it four hundred years ago and then died.
Christopher Munden
Yeah, I asked the question in a recent review: Why do Shakespeare?
Julius Ferraro
What did you find out?
Christopher Munden
Basically that you shouldn’t do it if you feel like you need to make excuses for him.
Julius Ferraro
I guess this goes back to an ongoing question for me: why make theater?
What does it do that tv and movies don’t?
This was not a good argument for the medium.
Christopher Munden
Man, this is a brutal dialog review. I kinda liked that play.
Going back to my reasons for liking Shakespeare: the actors captured his language beautifully, everything was understandable. The drama was clear, it was just the characters and interactions that were insufficiently developed.
It’s not a play that gets produced that much and I was happy to get to see a competent production with good acting.
Julius Ferraro
Yea, this is brutal. We’re being meaner than necessary.
Christopher Munden
I mean, it’ll be Barrymore recommended and everything.
Julius Ferraro
Ugh . . . okay maybe we’re not being mean enough.
Look, here’s what I say: If you like that kind of thing, see it. If you don’t, don’t.
What’s Measure for Measure about for you?
Christopher Munden
Hum. For me, it’s a commentary on humanity and our hypocrisy: in our mores, our laws, our relationships.
Maybe.
You?
Julius Ferraro
For me its about deep, sinister temptations, and their relationships to currency, law, exchange, and justice. And Its weird location in both tragedy and comedy, its radical change in main character (from Isabella to the Duke) from the first to the second half, its movement from female-central to male-central, probably bespeaks Shakespeare’s ambivalence about the issues.
Christopher Munden
Is the ending meant to be ironic?
Julius Ferraro
We have the same question around Taming of the Shrew. Again, perhaps its ambivalence?
I don’t buy the argument that the play was a rush job, because if you look closely at the text, and how carefully the metaphors are constructed, again, around exchange, currency, justice (measure for measure), you see that it was deeply wrought.
Christopher Munden
We’re getting deep into it now.
These correspondence reviews always seem like a good idea but then you read them and they’re boring.
Julius Ferraro
The problem is that I was never going to like this production, and you didn’t love it but really understand my problems with it.
And you’re so nice and English so you’re not challenging me on my opinions.
Christopher Munden
You’re right

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.