For a play written well over five centuries ago, to be relevant in 2019 is no mean feat. The Bard has always been credited to have given us universal themes, stories that have longevity and have cross-cultural resonance.
Montreal’s Repercussion Theatre brings us their annual summer treat and this year we meet Measure for Measure (dir. Amanda Kellock), which was written in the early 17th century. Having read the play in school two decades ago, I was quite surprised at the relevance of the themes the play explores. From abuse of power to the choice between virtue and the life of a loved one, the face off between an idea of puritanical justice, juxtaposed with morality, the play is more relevant today than I ever imagined.
Duke Vincentio leaves his office in the hands of a deputy Angelo. In the spirit of ensuring a moral regime, all places of vice are closed down and one Claudio is sentenced to death for impregnating his fiancée before matrimony. Claudio’s comrade Lucio pleads to his sister Isabella, who lives in a convent, that she seek Angelo’s forgiveness on her brother’s behalf. The set-up though simple, is perfectly directed for the conflict that is to come.
The first meeting between Angelo and Isabella, and the deputy enthralled by her chastity, accentuates her appeal and beauty. He places a condition on the brother’s release: Isabella must succumb to Angelo’s lust. He declares his love for her and for Isabella is naturally appalled by the very idea.
In the world where power has become synonymous with abuse and where our morality is constantly under threat, the play may seem preachy on the surface, yet attempts to explore the most fundamental principles that most of us grapple with when making life choices. In addition, the discussion of morality, justice, and social vice adequately represents the world of Elizabeth’s protestant England, still reeling from being at odds with the Catholic Church.
While the play has Dike Vincentio, disguised as a Friar, going around Vienna attempting to see the lives of his citizens through the eyes of a common person, we only have our community members, our neighbors who can act as our guardians and our conscience. One more thing we seem to have lost to the world gone by. In today’s world, the distance between the rulers and the ruled seem to be constantly widening.
Both Samantha Bitonti as Isabella and Alex Goldrich as Angelo play their parts with finesse. Matthew Kabwe as Duke Vincentio brings both a moral centre and an overarching self-reflective guardianship to the performance. The supporting cast, particularly Anton May as Lucio, Trevor Barrette as Claudio are equally impassioned.
There is something to be said about watching a great play, with great performances in the outdoors on a warm summer evening. Obviously, the play is still laced with some archaic ideas, which were just of that era, but still worth spending an evening with.
Shakespeare in the Park has a list of performances that can be enjoyed over the next few weeks. For event details and locations, please check: https://www.repercussiontheatre.com/sitp2019-en/