“Who is really running the asylum?” asks Director Tom Parr in his program notes to Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure, the play inaugurating Nouveau 47 Theatre into the N. Texas thespian scene. The question might be applied to the logic behind selecting this complicated “problem” play and its resulting uneven production. A new company in an ungainly space, with limited financing and resources, might have opted for sanity by choosing a contemporary, modern dress work with a small cast for its first show. Instead, Parr’s company wades into one of Shakespeare’s least frequently (for good reason) produced comedies and swamps itself in real bedlam.
There are fine actors in this production, tip-toeing perilously around a chaotic jumble of frenzied gesticulating and tortured line-readings, trying to find their character arcs and thematic integrity in spite of the clunky, superimposed madness.
Danielle Pickard is one of the most compelling actresses in this community. She does not disappoint as the soulful Isabella, blackmailed into compromising her virginity to save her less principled brother’s life. The production suffers overall from a shrill profusion of the “louder is better” school of acting, egged on by the perpetrators’ chums in the audience. What welcome relief ascends when Pickard takes the stage, or Dennis Raveneau with his resonant mature voice and mellow, focused Brian Witkowicz in secondary roles. Justin Locklear demonstrates the most fluent grasp of Shakespearean dialogue. While he may lack veracity in portraying an exploitative dishonest politician, he makes up for it with dignified clarity of speech and intelligent text interpretation.
His portrayal doesn’t inspire cringing, even as his black frock coat sags and bunches up oddly.
17th century Bedlam? Why not produce a 17th century comic farce, in that case? Why shoehorn a complicated, dark-themed Shakespeare play into manic distraction? Nouveau 47 Theatre’s genesis at the 2010 Festival of Independent Theatres with its fanciful Alice in Wonderland showed such promise. Their Measure For Measure feels like an attempt to extend the Mad Hatter’s tea party into an all-nighter. Leave Lewis Carroll on the shelf. Why doesn’t anybody simply perform Shakespeare as written?
Measure For Measure, directed by Tom Parr IV, runs through February 27 at The Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park.