by Orissa Arend
If Supreme Court Justice Bret Kavanaugh, the late billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, or the bully in the While House spoke in iambic pentameter, they would sound exactly like Lord Angelo in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Same arrogant abuse of power and position. Same reckless indulgence of lust. Same high-handed hypocrisy. Same reliance on bribes and intimidation.
In the play Angelo has been left in charge of Vienna by the Duke who hangs around disguised as a friar. He is trying to stamp out an epidemic of loose living, depravity, and debauchery plaguing the city. There are houses of prostitution and swaggering drunks everywhere you look. But who does Angelo decide to pick on? Poor Claudio who got his fiance` pregnant. The law, hardly ever enforced, was no sex before marriage. So to make an example that no one would miss, Angelo has Claudio arrested and plans to cut off his head.
Lucky for Claudio, he has this brilliant, principled sister, Isabella, who is a Catholic nun about to take her final vows. When she pleads with Angelo for Claudio’s life, it somehow turns Angelo on. He offers Claudio’s life in exchange for her virginity. Young Isabella is an equal to Angelo in debate, and she sticks to her guns, her virginity, that is. When she tells Claudio all this, he waffles, emotions all over the place, and finally decides, “Well maybe virginity isn’t really too much to give up so that I get to live” or words to that effect.
This infuriates Isabella who seems to be the only one in the story whose motives are pure. She is determined to expose Angelo, even if no one will believe her.
The Duke, watching all this from his disguise as a friar, then hatches an elaborate scheme designed to unmask everybody’s truth. When it works, he is hoping his savior status will win him Isabella as his bride. But she, the ultimate liberated woman. . . oops, never mind, go see the play.
The acting, with a diverse cast, is superb. Actors bring just the right balance of humor and gravity. Aditi Kapil, is a nationally produced female playwright of Bulgarian and Indian descent. She translated the play into a bit more contemporary English without changing the cadence (iambic pentameter), the dramatic pressure, or the rigor of language. This is part of a national movement which began at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The Play on Shakespeare spun off from that with 36 playwrights, mostly women and mostly people of color, commissioned to create modern versions of the Bard’s plays.
You can see Measure for Measure, put on by the NOLA Project in the Great Hall of the New Orleans Museum of Art through September 29.