Measure for Measure: Sex and the Citizens

David Esbjornson's Shakespeare production puts an urban hell in Central Park

Esbjornson solves our dilemma by making the Duke, like Claudio, youthfully callow. Pisoni, charmingly uncertain, is a boyish Duke who hasn't fully learned yet how to assert his power. It explains why he, like his older "cousin" Angelo, would be attracted to Gurira's intense, strong-willed forthrightness: The tension between the two acting styles supplies the erotic stimulus, putting the Duke's ornate trickery into perspective as a counterweight to Angelo's outright brutality—measure for measure. Not all of Esbjornson's notions work so well. Rogers's hammy artificiality, here as in All's Well, proves more of a hindrance to sense than a stimulus to humor; so does Esbjornson's treatment of the Duke's disguise as a mere sight gag (the same one, involving spectacles, used last month at the climax of David Ives's The School for Lies). There have been productions in which the play's contentious components seemed more cohesive. But the evening catches the work's force, its gutsiness, and the morally indigestible provocations that keep it constantly fresh. Among Shakespeare's works, it's everybody's favorite nightmare.

mfeingold@villagevoice.com

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