Mr. Angelo: A Contemporary Re-Imagining of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure”

Theatre Verity’s latest project just happens to be presented in the theatre space whose resident company I just happen to help run, so I have met several of the people involved with this project, including the playwright Dan Tarker, who is an amusing and smart person. I talked briefly with him about his upcoming project, which he explained was inspired by a recent unfortunate trend of couples getting divorced, then finding that they are unable to sell their houses. He said it was a dark comedy. That’s a show I would love to see.

“Mr. Angelo” is a show I saw out of a sense of duty to my theatre, and small theatres in general. I feel a little bad about going into it with such an attitude, but once it was explained to me that the show was based on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, I was already suspicious. I have a philosophical and artistic problem with rewriting old scripts. If you want to do Measure for Measure, then do Measure for Measure. If you want to write a play about teenage pregnancy, statutory rape, sexual predators, and moral conundrums, I don’t see why it is so hard to write an original script about all of these things. Even if Shakespeare inspires you to write about these things, his originality should inspire you to reach your own original heights, right? I mean, Billy Shakes stole liberally from other stories (Hamlet, King Lear, MacBeth, most of his comedies) but he put a very original spin on them, which is why we still search for value in them 500+ years later.

That said, I didn’t hate this show. I was pretty ambivalent about it, but I didn’t hate it. The writing was actually pretty good, particularly the character of Julie, a knocked-up, emotionally abused teenage girl who is goofy-in-love with Clay, the 20-year-old accused of statutory rape. Clay’s character was nice comic relief and a good account of my generation’s sarcasm, although the actor didn’t seem to grasp the more serious moments, when he realizes his life will absolutely be ruined by these felony charges. Clay’s sister, Isabelle, was a very weak character, and I blame a combination of writing and directing for this. She whined incessantly about her moral dilemma, wrung her hands and darted her eyes about, without ever taking a firm, strong stance, whether she was doing what she knew was right or what she knew was wrong (and she had black and white moments of revelation during the show that could have been delicious moments of confidence in an otherwise morally fraught plot). The stakes for most of the actors never went higher than the beginning of the play, so I didn’t know where it was supposed to climax, and therefore was not expecting the end, and left without any sense of satisfaction that the show ended where it did. Now, leaving a show with a question or on an ambiguous note is fine with me — I’ve directed several of those shows in the past 2 years — but there has to be an “A-Ha” moment for the audience, before the actual end of the show. At least one.

I will say that I enjoyed the character of Mr. Angelo. Not that I approved of him or liked him as a person, but I thought the levelness, the lack of high stakes, actually worked for him. Mr. Angelo consistently hits on and threatens Isabelle, who is a pastor at a local Methodist church. When she goes to beg him to reconsider the severity of his penalty against Clay, Angelo invites her to dinner to further discuss the issue. When Isabelle is finally pressured into going to dinner, Angelo slyly traps her in his condo and suggests that they bargain for Clay’s freedom — all charges dropped in exchange for sexual favors. And during each advance, each entrapment, Mr. Angelo is calm and normal, as if what he is asking is just as normal as talking about the weather, or asking what time it is — as if a young man’s life is something that constantly hangs in the balance (as I’m sure it does for District Attorneys all over the country) and there’s nothing abnormal about using it as political advance or for personal gain. The actor did not impose any sort of creepiness onto this character, which made the character that much more frightening and insidious. Kudos on that.

So, overall, I am interested in Theatre Verity’s future shows, but I do still have a philosophical qualm with calling an adapted work “original” or “new,” as it isn’t (and yes, we can argue in Jungian circles about whether any plots are actually new; I am of the opinion that it is the effort to create a fully new set of characters and storyline, whether it follows a mythic cycle or not, that counts). But the play itself was okay, I’m glad I saw it, and although I was left unsatisfied overall, it had it’s moments of interest.

2 thoughts on “Mr. Angelo: A Contemporary Re-Imagining of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure”

  1. So you don’t like Scottland PA, Kiss Me Kate, Brave New World, Forbidden Planet, and countless other plays and films that created new stories based on Shakespeare as source material? Mr. Amgelo focuses on the female characters in Measure for Measure – characters under-developed by Shakespeare – and adds different elements than the source material…We point to Measure for Measure as a reference point…but it is completely new since Measure for Measure does not address the sane issues as this play does since it was written in a different time.

  2. Man I wish my blog was as well written as yours! :) great work! I guess I am still learning and started on a tough topic, dating tips!

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