‘Measure for Measure’ Explores Shakespeare’s Most Sexually Charged Comedy

Frog & Peach Theatre Company, “one of the most durable and best-kept secrets in the New York theater community” (Curtain Up!), will present a Weimar vision of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” April 25 to May 19 at the West End Theater, 263 West 86th Street. Artistic Director Lynnea Benson directs. The classic will be set in the 1930s Germany in order to comment on the corruption and hypocrisy that underlies the smug patina of modern life.

In Shakespeare’s hilarious black comedy, The Duke of Vienna pretends to leave the city, assigning his authority to Angelo while he disguises himself as a friar and stays to watch what develops. Angelo almost immediately sentences Claudio to death for seducing Juliet, but when Claudio’s sister Isabel comes to plead for him, Angelo shamelessly tries to seduce her, offering to exchange her brother’s life for her virginity. The “cleric” persuades her to turn the tables by appearing to consent to the plan but sending Angelo’s abandoned fiancee, Marianna, to the rendezvous instead. Ultimately the Duke resumes his authority and sets things straight again.

LR: Vivien Landau as Mistress Overdone, and Erick Gonzales as Duke Vincentio. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Director Lynnea Benson explains that visualizing the play in a familiar, pre-Nazi society is a good way to illustrate the themes of corruption and fascism in the play. These themes should not be unfamiliar in our modern perspective. She reflects, “We are still a very corrupt city, but with a greasy face of political correctness over everything. Look at every real estate deal you hear of. We cater to the consumer class. We are not thinkers any more. Beliefs trump science and instant gratification is more important than good manners. In that way, we resemble the world of this play. We are channeling our resources in the wrong direction.” With recent scandals among extremely conservative organizations and a fondly remembered old Times Square in mind, Frog and Peach intends a full exploration of what some call Shakespeare’s most sexually charged comedy.

The actors include Amy Francis Quint as Isabella, Jonathan Reed Wexler as Claudio, Erick Gonzalez as Duke Vincentio, Eric Doss as Angelo, Marcus Watson as Pompey, Ilaria Amadasi as Marianna, Vivien Landau as Mistress Overdone/Francisca and Steve Mazzoccone as Lucio. Lighting is designed by Dennis Parichy. Set design is by Andy Estep. Costume design is by Asa Benally. Choreography is by Tom Knutson.

Frog and Peach Theatre Company, now in its eighteenth season, was co-founded by Ted Zurkowski and Lynnea Benson – both lifetime members of The Actors Studio- and is dedicated to bringing Shakespeare’s plays in a way that is thrilling, fast-paced, true to the text, and startlingly relevant to modern audiences. Director Lynnea Benson has directed over two dozen Shakespeare productions for Frog and Peach including “The Taming of the Shrew,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “Twelfth Night,” “Cymbeline,” “Macbeth,” “As You Like It” (with Sidney Williams and Emmy-winner Camryn Grimes) “Richard III” (starring Anatol Yusef of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”); “Hamlet” (with Austin Pendleton as Claudius and The Ghost); “Richard II” (with Mr. Pendleton as Richard), “Macbeth” with Jason Kuschner in the title role, “The Merchant of Venice” and “King John” (with Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno as Blanche). Ms. Benson is Artistic Director and co-founder of Frog and Peach.

Last December, the company presented “The Taming of the Shrew” at the West End Theatre. Deidre Donovan (Curtain Up!) labeled the production “gutsy,” “well-cast” and “tightly directed by Lynnea Benson,” declaring “The Frog and Peach Theatre Company is one of the most durable and best-kept secrets in the New York theater community. Whether it is mounting one of the Bard’s familiar, or not-so-familiar, works, you can bet the actors and creative team will deliver the Shakespearean goods. This Shrew is no exception, and it won’t break your wallet either.” Ralph Greco (www.shortandsweetnyc.com) called it “a briskly-paced 2 hours of absolute delight.”

Last season, the company presented a memorable production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” NY Theater Buying Guide (Ronald Gross) deemed it “One of the best theater bargains in New York City!” Frog and Peach was called “a brave company that is a jewel of Off-Broadway” and the production was praised as “overflowing with delicious performances.” Gross elaborated, “Lynnea Benson…orchestrates her talented actors with clarity and hilarity – I’ve never seen a production in which the romantic imbroglios of the plot are easier to follow. But she also plumbs the depths of a work that is frightening in its evocation of primal fears and anxieties – of domination and loss of control over oneself and others. The cast is so brimming with talent that each member deserves recognition.”

The West End Theater is located at 263 West 86th St. (B’way and West End Ave.). “Measure for Measure” will be performed Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM beginning April 25 and running through May 19. General admission tickets are $18.00 and seniors and sudents are admitted for $12. For tickets call SMARTTIX at 212-868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com. The building, theater and its restrooms are all wheelchair accessible.

Jonathan Slaff
Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.