Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park opened its 29th season (where did the years go?) with Measure for Measure at Water Stage in Myriad Botanical Gardens. This is only the second time OSP has staged this comedy, and the production may show why that is: It’s practically devoid of humor.
Measure for Measure is what’s called a “problem comedy” — that is, rather than dealing happily with the foibles of love and vicissitudes of life, its subject matter includes the egregious misuse of political power, capital punishment, social problems and sexual abuse.
The play presents a challenge for directors, and this leaden production lands with a thud, feeling every muggy minute of its more than two-and-a-half-hour running time.
Measure seems, er, pregnant with possibilities for a modern staging. Disgusted with decadence and disregard for the law, Duke Vincentio temporarily cedes all his power to a deputy, Angelo, so his lordship can go among the people unnoticed in disguise — as a priest, no less.
Following statutes, Angelo sentences a man named Claudio to death for impregnating his fiancée, Juliet. Claudio’s sister, Isabella, who’s about to enter a convent, spends the rest of the play trying to absolve her brother.
Angelo, for all practical purposes, sexually assaults Isabella in one scene.
Did I mention this is a comedy?
D. Lance Marsh helms the show, and the evidence suggests that at least he tried. Shakespeare set the play in Vienna, Austria, but Marsh switches it to Vienna, Va., in 1969. Robert Pittenridge’s costumes are nostalgically authentic, right down to Lucio’s polyester leisure suit.
Early on, as part of a heavy-handed crackdown on vice, posters are put up declaring, “Sex Is a Crime! Punishable by Death!” The second act opens with protesting hippies chanting, “Hell, no, Angelo! Angelo has got to go!”
It’s not clear who or what Duke Vincentio is. He’s referred to as “your royal grace,” but what is he? The mayor? As far as I know, Vienna, Va., isn’t a dukedom.
You can’t fault the acting. The reliable Wil Rogers, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a mid-career Kirk Douglas, plays the duke. Several of the actors are new to me. Josh Henry is solid as Angelo, and the vocally strong Andrew Luzania has an ostensibly comic role as Lucio. Corrinne Mica makes a fine Isabella.
The hugely pregnant Juliet (Julia Devine) looks as if she may have the baby before intermission. Later, she’s seen holding a newborn. Don’t worry: The birth takes place offstage. On the other hand, if it hadn’t, it surely would have livened up the proceedings.