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Equal measures of comedy and drama

October 05, 2010|By James Famera
(Photo by Craig Schwartz )

What a pleasure it is to have a classical theater company like A Noise Within in Los Angeles. From William Shakespeare to Henrik Ibsen, no playwright is deemedtoo “high-brow”, and its actors’ passion for the material is palpable on stage.

Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” has been chosen to launch the 19th season of the company, and even though it was written more than 400 years ago, it still feels modern with its themes of moral corruption and political irresponsibility.

Vienna is the setting, and the Duke (a stirring Robertson Dean) has watched his city fall into sinful behavior. While presumably leaving town on a political mission, he leaves the government in the hands of Angelo (Geoff Elliott), an unblemished man of God. The Duke hopes that Angelo’s moral strictness will cleanse Vienna of its ills.

Angelo, however, has his own demons and is unable to resist his sexual urges for Isabella (Karron Graves), a nun seeking a pardon for her condemned brother. It’s later revealed that the Duke has never left Vienna, and disguises himself as a friar to spy on Angelo. In his guise, the Duke befriends Isabella and saves her from Angelo’s evil intentions.

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At times, it’s difficult to decipher whether the play is a comedy or a drama, seeing that it has comedic elements sprinkled throughout. In between Isabella and Angelo’s tense scenes, there are light moments supplied by the clownish characters Pompey (Mark Bramhall), a pimp, and the Duke’s constable Elbow (a hilarious Michael Faulkner). Elbow tends to confuse words a lot, as when he calls Pompey a “notorious benefactor” rather than the intended word, “malefactor.” It’s clear that Shakespeare wrote Elbow only for comedic purposes. Yet directors Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott are familiar enough with the material not to allow Elbow and Pompey’s comedy to overshadow the more serious moments.

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