by Lynn on May 2, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Junction City Music Hall, 2907 Dundas St. W, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Catherine Rainville

Scenic design by Caitlin Doherty

Cast: Geoffrey Armour

Olivia Croft

Sochi Fried

Melanie Leon

Tim MacLean

Michael Man

Megan Miles

Julia Nish-Lapidus

Drew O’Hara

Lesley Robertson

David Ross

James Wallis

Jeff Yung

A crackerjack production thanks to director Catherin Rainville and her cast, of Shakespeare’s thorny play, that alas, is always timely.

 The Story. You have to give it to William Shakespeare. He wrote Measure for Measure about 400 years ago and with #MeToo, #Time’s Up etc. the play is still timely and relevant.

Isabella just wants to enter the convent and devote her life to God. But then her brother Claudio is sentenced to death for getting his fiancée pregnant (It’s Vienna, there is an ancient law on the books that says if you get a woman pregnant you are sentenced to death). Claudio asks Isabella to plead his case to Angelo, the prickly stickler for the law. She is eloquent. He is impressed by that. He makes her a proposition to save her brother and it’s not that they both pray together. Isabella is repelled by the offer and torn about what to do. She lives in a world where women are treated badly by men, not respected, not cherished. They are a commodity. Kind of sounds familiar. No wonder the woman wants to go into a convent.

The Production. Catherine Rainville, the smart, gutsy director of this dandy production, announces that one of the cast members (Cara Pantalone) is ill and can’t appear so Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis will play the roles that Ms Pantalone would have played. Mr. Wallis also gives out the tickets at the door, while Ms Nish-Lapidus seems to be a comforting mother hen to the cast as she paces back and forth before the show starts to check on the front of house and what’s going on backstage. Shakespeare BASH’d is that kind of company where everybody pitches in to do all and sundry. It works a treat.

The production is played downstairs in the bar of the Junction City Music Hall. The audience sits on both sides of the playing area where the action whizzes and goes like a bat out of hell.

Catherine Rainville has created some wonderfully surprising moments in her muscular, bracing production. Duke Vincentio (David Ross), the weak twit of the head of Vienna has made a botch of keeping order so he decides to leave, giving the reins of power to Angelo (Geoffrey Armour). Because Angelo is so straight-laced and follows the letter of the law, the Duke feels that Angelo will straighten everything out. The Duke gives the letter transferring power to Escalus who in turn will give the letter to Angelo.  Geoffrey Armour initially plays Angelo as an obedient accommodating man but when the Duke is out of sight Angelo lunges at the letter, rips it out of Escalus’ hands and reads it greedily to see what his duties are.

That surprises me in a wonderfully positive way. Director Catherine Rainville instantly shows the layers to Angelo; that he does hide many aspects to his personality, huge ambition being one. I wish Geoffrey Armour as Angelo played him with more variation instead of a ramped up sense of tension and irritation.

Under Rainville’s direction the cast is overflowing with inventive business, body language, riské business, humour, and wit. Two of the best in the cast are: Lesley Robertson as Pompey, a slippery, sarcastic operator and Michael Man as Lucio, a sneaky scumbag who never met a person he couldn’t insult or an opportunity he couldn’t work to his advantage. Both do splendid work. Sochi Fried is a standout as Isabella. She is prim without being priggish, pious, eloquent and quick witted. There is passion in her arguments with Angelo and she conveys a gut-twisting moment at the end when she is faced with another difficult decision.

Without giving anything away, I thought the ending could have carried a stronger punch. But David Ross as the Duke doesn’t go for a tougher playing of the ending perhaps because Rainville doesn’t want it played that way? It’s an interesting way of ending this production of this always troubling play.

Comment. I love the guts of Shakespeare BASH’d. They never shy away from troubling plays and they present them for a truly loyal audience. Their shows are usually sold out and it’s easy to see why; the plays are well acted, directed, produced and done with total commitment.

Measure for Measure is certainly one of Shakespeare’s more troubling, unsettling plays and Shakespeare BASH’d have done a splendid production showing why.

 Shakespeare BASH’d presents:

Opened: May 1, 2018.

Closes: May 6, 2018.

Running Time:  2 hours, 30 minutes.

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