Measure For Measure

Measure for Measure

Directed by J.C. Luxton
March 2003

The Cast

Aaron E. Bennin-Sullivan
The Duke of Vienna

Michael Callahan
Angelo, the Deputy
Mistress Overdone, a bawd

Ben Sharpe
Lucio, a fantastic

Tracy Skaggs
Claudio, a young gentleman

Jill Sullivan-Bennin
Juliet, beloved of Claudio
Peter, a friar
Elbow, a simple constable
Abhorson, an executioner
An Anonymous Messenger

Bryan Woods
Escalus, an ancient Provost

Cait Woolley
Isabella, sister to Claudio,An Anonymous Gentleman

Denise Yoder
Mariana, betrothed to Angelo
Pompey, servant to Overdone
Francisca, a nun

And Introducing

Andrew Koski
Barnardine, a dissolute prisoner

QC Times review of Measure for Measure

Original review by Ruby Nancy appeared in the Quad City Times newspaper.

Prenzie starts with Shakespeare’s ‘Measure’

There once was a time when theater folks were mostly traveling bands of players who would put on a show wherever they were pulling out something already written, using props and costumes on hand, using actors for whatever roles cropped up, and creating a “stage” from whatever space was available.

Thank goodness some traditions never die.

The Prenzie Players, a brand-new theater group in the Quad-Cities dedicated to producing the works of William Shakespeare, launch their first show this weekend, and the topnotch “Measure for Measure” is I sincerely hope the first of many, many more to come.

Director J.C. Luxton, one of the Prenzie founders (whose playbill credits “the cast” as co-director), helms a fresh and wonderful production of the 400-year-old play. A comedy with a dark, serious edge to it, “Measure for Measure” provokes thought as well as laughter, and these players are true to the heart and soul of this material.

The three central characters Vincentio, Duke of Vienna, Angelo, the Duke’s deputy, and Isabella, a young woman whose brother is scheduled for execution carry the dramatic threads of the story. The Duke (masterfully played by a sharp, intense, gloriously handsome and superbly smooth Aaron E. Bennin-Sullivan) fakes a trip abroad so he can walk among the common people disguises as a friar, and appoints Angelo (a chilly, equally intense Michael Callahan) in his stead.

Isabella, a novice (the stunning, passionately eloquent Cait Woolley), leaves her convent to plead the case of her brother before Angelo, who has sentenced the brother, Claudio, to die. The struggle at the core of this story belongs to young Isabella, when Angelo offers her a deal: she can save her brother’s life by consenting to sex with the deputy. One of the greatest roles for a young woman in all of the Shakespearean canon, Isabella is caught between the brutality of a power-mad, judgmental religious fanatic and her brother’s weakness and Woolley’s fantastic work here is completely on par with the great writing that makes this part such a fabulous one. She’s beautiful in an otherworldly yet earthy way, and she is powerfully evocative and emotionally compelling on a level that few modern performers of classic material ever seem to attain, and she will literally blow you away with her work in this show.

Even with its serious subject matter, this play really is a comedy. And Woolley and Callahan play a pair of riotously funny supporting characters, too. He is Mistress Overdone, a long-past-her-prime lady of the evening, and Woolley is an easily entertained gentleman who keeps the “entertainer” company. Six other actors play a dozen more roles many of which are also comedic in nature. There are jokes about all the usual things sex and death, pregnancy and promiscuity, drunkenness and false piety the basics of comedy, if you will. And many more things will have you laughing, too.

The best of these company players who lend laughter, lewdness and lively energy to this show are Jill Sullivan-Bennin and Denise Yoder, who play multiple roles of both genders and all types. Yoder is saucy and hilarious as Pompey, the snappy male sidekick of Mistress Overdone, fussy and funny as an uptight nun, then plays a serious role as Angelo’s long-abandoned fiancee. And Sullivan-Bennin turns up again and again on wonderful and unexpected ways as an unwed mother-to-be, an elderly potbellied friar, a dimwitted constable, an executioner you have to see to believe, and more.

A slick, eclectic mix of hip and neo-conservative costumes dominated by black fabrics are set off by occasional touches of wine, charcoal, red, cream or white, and they lend a polish and sophistication to the show that really works. The tiny, urban performance space used for this show reinforces both the intimacy of the emotion and the hilarity it embodies and the informal immediacy of performers (who sometimes address the audience and sometimes join it) is as fresh for 2003 as it is true to the legacy of the Bard.

This “Measure” is a fantastic show scheduled to run for just two performances, and I predict it will leave jam-packed, cheek-to-jowl audiences panting for more. And that’s a crowd you can bet I’ll be right in the middle of.

Preview of Measure for Measure

From the Daily Dispatch
Shakespeare in the Peanut Gallery

Wednesday, 19 March 2003

About a year ago, Genesius Guild members J.C. Luxton and Cait Wooley had an idea: to bring Shakespearean theatre to a more intimate space than the outdoor Lincoln Park venue in which the Guild performs every summer.

Now their idea has evolved into reality as a group of nine actors called the Prenzie Players will produce Measure for Measure at the Peanut Gallery (located on the corner of Third Avenue and 21st Street in Rock Island) on March 21 and 22.

Luxton, the director of the show, says the goal of Measure is to “combine the seriousness of the Genesius Guild with the zaniness of Comedy Sportz.” The end result, he hopes, will be a high-energy show that’s fun for audiences to experience – and fun for many reasons.

When casting Shakespeare’s comedy, Luxton decided to give multiple parts to his dedicated actors. “We have one woman playing five parts,” he said. “It will be fun for the audience to see her changing from the executioner to the main love interest and then to the friar. We also gave male parts to females and vice-versa, because it’s just more fun that way.”

The play deals with the effects of the overzealous enforcement of laws when the Duke of Vienna takes a sabbatical and puts his upright deputy in his place. A man who impregnated his fiancée is sentenced to death, and much of the plot deals with the efforts to free him.

Because the Prenzie Players don’t have much of a budget yet, costuming, lighting, set design, and props will be minimal. Luxton said actors will wear some form of black, depending on character, and that class distinction will be subtle. “Everything will be minimized to draw attention to the actors. This production is entirely actor-driven – they move the props and arrange the set. The action will be right there, in front of the audience.”

Audiences will also help determine the future of the Prenzie Players. Though Wooley anticipates more performances of Shakespearean works, Luxton is waiting hopefully for the community response to Measure for Measure.

Though the play will be presented with “high energy,” Luxton has stayed mostly true to the original text and complex language in Shakespeare’s work, making only a few changes, such as merging two minor characters into one. And the director says he chose Measure for Measure because it is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known comedies and often under-appreciated.

The Prenzie Players have a good chance to present an exciting, in-your-face version of Measure for Measure that the Quad Cities rarely has the opportunity to experience.

Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure will be presented at the Peanut Gallery, 300 21st Street in Rock Island on March 21 and 22 at 8 p.m. Admission is $5.