For nearly ten years, The Public Theater has been bringing theater to communities all over New York City via The Mobile Unit. At present, they’re finishing the fall tour of a truncated and lively version of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure at the Shiva Theater.
Regarded as neither a comedy nor a tragedy, Measure for Measure is a socio-political commentary that follows the Duke (Grace Porter) as he manipulate various citizens and politicians in search of those deserving justice and those who perpetuate corruption. In order to do this, the Duke puts Angelo (Adrian Kiser) in charge with Escalus (Nora Carroll) while he is “out of town,” and then disguises himself as a friar to see how Angelo wields power. As Angelo enforces the law, putting Claudio (Lily Santiago) on death row and putting Mistress Overdone (Latonia Phipps) out of business, he missteps in service to his lust when the fair novice Isabella (Jasmine Batchelor) comes pleading for Claudio’s life. As the events of the play unfold, lines are blurred and boundaries are bent, and in the end justice is served to the degree that makes one wonder if justice as defined by the law is a reasonable end.
The Mobile Unit production is everything a traveling show should be: energetic, eye catching, and technically modest. It requires minimal set pieces, no special lighting and showcases Asa Benally’s bright colored costumes which serve the actors’ effusive performance.
This interpretation of Measure for Measure is set in 1970s New Orleans, where debauchery reigns and is represented with dynamic and grounded choreography by Mayte Natalio. The music belongs to New Orleans: a variety of jazz and blues serve as preshow music and scene transitions – the majority of the music is provided by the all-female cast, among them is saxophonist Gabrielle Murphy, who plays with passion and joy.
The audience engagement activities are also incredibly well done. To help audience members follow the characters in the play, the program boasts a relationship map – which is also useful in recognizing performers when they play more than one character. To engage the audience in thinking about the themes of the production, they are asked to align themselves with Justice or Mercy – which is more important? –by selecting purple or gold Mardi Gras beads.
The nine actors are incredibly talented women who bring fire and humor to each character. Overall, they have such command of Shakespearean language and cadence that I felt as if it were the vernacular and slang of my everyday life. Jasmine Batchelor brings a strength and composure to Isabella that makes her the largest person on stage every time she speaks. Alfie Fuller and Toccarra Cash carry the humor of the piece by creating charming deviant attitudes in the characters of Pompey and Lucio respectively. The masterful control that Grace Porter creates in the Duke, and the subdued power-lust Adrian Kiser creates in Angelo fill the stage with tension and forward intention.
While Measure for Measure is less produced than other Shakespearean works, I believe the story is incredibly relevant to our current socio-political climate. How do we bring corrupt politicians to justice? How do we bring mercy into the justice system? Does justice look the same for everyone? How do we determine the case in which mercy reigns? LA Williams, in collaboration with The Public Theater, curates Measure for Measure in such a way that audiences of all ages and walks of life might consider similar questions. Since the play ends with obvious ambiguity, one leaves the theater with many questions.
Measure for Measure, The Mobile Unit, The Public Theater, 425 Layfette St, New York, NY 10003. Closes December 8th. Tickets and Information here: https://publictheater.org/productions/season/1920/mobile-measure-for-measure/