Measure for Measure is considered one of Shakespeare’s problem plays but Canadian Stage succeeds in making it accessible in their Shakespeare in High Park production of it. Billed as a comedy it has some dark undertones and an intriguing underbelly.
The story centres around Claudio, who is sentenced to death by Lord Angelo for impregnating his lover Juliet. Angelo has been left in charge of Vienna and decides that it’s time to rid the city of the brothels and other unsavoury establishments. Claudio’s sister Isabella, is a pious nun and is about to enter a nunnery. When she hears about her brother’s sentence, she goes to Angelo and begs him to release her brother. He refuses unless Isabella agrees to give her virginity to him, something she cannot bring herself to agree to.
Eventually, the Duke who is incognito dressed as a friar, reveals himself to Isabella. They hatch a plan where Isabella will agree to the sexual interlude but won’t go through it, they will have Angelo’s former lover Mariana take her place. Eventually, the Duke reveals his identity and everyone is forced to be honest.
This production has Vienna looking like a fun 1980’s wonderland with graffiti artwork on corrugated steel designed by Joanna Yu and bright, edgy costumes created by Michelle Bohn. It reminded me of the 1980’s London punk scene.
Severn Thompson’s direction is taut and she keeps the action moving along at a brisk pace. Performances are strong but there were some stand-outs. Nora McLellan is quirky and full bodied as Mistress Overdone, Natasha Mumba delivered a moving speech as Isabella that truly resonated. Can Kömleksiz was amusingly befuddled as Conrad. Heath V. Salazar positively steals the show in the roles of Pompey/Margaret/Verges. The comedic timing and perfectly placed execution of Salazar’s dialogue was top notch. They are absolutely riveting to watch.
Canadian Stage is in their 37th season and they really have perfected these wonderful summer offerings. They make seeing a Shakespearean show unintimidating and the play clips along, running 90 minutes with no intermission. So, bring your blankets and bug spray and head down to High Park. The show is by donation, with a suggested donation of $20.00.
Cover photo: The ensemble of Measure for Measure by Dahlia Katz