Stuart Bousel, one of the founders and co artistic director (with Brian Markley) of SF Theatre Pub, a company that presents theatre-in-a-barroom at the Cafe Royale, often hears from actors after they attend a performance. They say, “Let me in on the act! I have to do this!” And no wonder: rarely is theatre this much fun. But don’t let the boozy ambience fool you — Mr. Bousel is an accomplished director (click here for a recent review of his Merchant of Venice), and draws first rate professional performances from his young actors. The current production of Measure for Measure is as polished an example of Shakespearean expertise as you will find in any local venue.
Surprisingly, Measure for Measure is not an especially popular Shakespearean play, although it is both funny and easy-to-understand. The kind Duke Vicentio rules Vienna in a tolerant fashion, looking the other way at crimes such as sex before marriage and prostitution. At the start of the play, he decides to test the behavior of Lord Angelo by skipping town and leaving Angelo in charge. The dour and intolerant Angelo immediately begins enforcing the letter of the law and a young man named Claudio is condemned to death for the crime of fornication. The audience understands, though, that all will end well because the Duke has secretly remained in Vienna disguised as a friar. It is clear that he will fix things in the end, but he is in no hurry and various complications ensue. Claudio’s sister, Isabelle, a novice nun, attempts to persuade Lord Angelo to spare her brother’s life. He responds with a proposition: he’ll spare Claudio in exchange for sexual favors. Isabelle refuses. Claudio objects. And so on.
Because we know all will end happily, it is possible (and surely Shakespeare’s intention) for all these complications to be played for laughs and SF Theatre Pub milks ’em all. Nick Dickson’s Lord Angelo is as cold and sour as a chilled pickle and both actor and audience enjoy this enormously. Vince Rodriguez as Claudio is delightful in his astonishment at his unexpected predicament and really funny when he tries to persuade his sister (a nun, no less!) to give in to Angelo. Will Hand is full of good natured humor as Duke Vincentio and handles the Elizabethan English with remarkable clarity and seemingly effortless expertise. Perhaps best of all is Julia Heitner, who makes of the nun Isabella a fascinating and beautiful woman, full of passion, humor and quick intellect. Isabella is typical of Shakespeare’s most charming woman characters, and Heitner doesn’t miss a trick in her excellent characterization. The remaining members of the company are all exceptionally capable as well.
With no stage, the actors move about the Cafe Royale as easily as members of the crowd, often brushing against their audience who also mill about freely. It doesn’t seem like a Shakespearean performance at all; it is more like a party with some unusually interesting and flamboyantly dressed guests who talk funny but are very entertaining indeed. Director Bousel makes sure that things move along swiftly, the action is never static, and the plot is easy to follow.
If you love Shakespeare, you’ll love SF Theatre Pub’s Measure for Measure. If you think Shakespeare is boring and stodgy, SF Theatre Pub has the cure. And where else are you encouraged to walk right past the actors mid performance and sidle up to the bar for a beer? This one’s hard to beat!
Although SF Theatre Pub is as professional as any company in town, performances are on a donation basis. You really oughta go.
There are three more performances of Measure for Measure: tonight (August 20th), tomorrow night (August 21st) and next Monday (August 27th). For further information, click here.
“Measure for Measure” by William Shakespeare, produced by Theatre Pub. Director: Stuart Bousel.
Duke Vicentio: Will Hand. Escalus: Carl Lucania. Angelo: Nick Dickson. Lucie: Neil Higgins. Mistress Overdone: Linda Ruth Cardozo. Marianna: Kirsten Broadbear. Claudio: Vince Rodriguez. The Provost: Tony Cirimele. Isabella: Julia Heitner.
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