Friday, August 13, 2010

Why You Should Go to "Measure for Measure": A Top Ten List

The Stonington Opera House production of Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" opens on Thursday August 19. If somehow you're still looking for reasons WHY you should attend, look no further. Below are 10 inarguable reasons to go to the show. What's your top reason for wanting to see Shakespeare? And what's your excuse for not going, huh?

Top Ten Reasons You Should Go to "Measure for Measure"

1. You're setting a record. You've seen all 10 years of Shakespeare productions at the Stonington Opera House, and you couldn't bear to miss year 11.

2. Savannah, Georgia is your favorite American city, and you can't afford to go there this year. Director Jeffrey Frace has transformed Shakespeare's Vienna, where the play is set, to 1950s Savannah. Very steamy.

3. You're a cook, and you think "Measure for Measure" might be the next "Top Chef" contender. Turns out, the title of Shakespeare's play is taken from the Bible. It's about measuring mercy, not flour.

4. You heard the play is about "Mercy." "Measure for Measure" IS about mercy but not the TV series "Mercy." Spoiler alert: Taylor Schilling is NOT in the Opera House cast.

5. You're into original music. Lawd alive, are you in the right place! Shakespeare was a music-loving fool, and Phillip Owen's original music has a southern draw and deep heartbeat. He grew up in Texas. (But we won't hold that against him.)

6. You like your Shakespeare wacky. If that's the case, you're in the right place. The Duke is played by a woman. The bawd Mistress Overdone is double cast as the Chief Nun at a cloister. And one of the scenes is almost as creepy as the Swedish film version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Laskigt!

7. You like cowboy hats and boots. And a rifle. Yep, you read it right. The costume designer has had some fun with this one.

8. Somebody told you Shakespeare was boring and hard to understand (even though it's English). It's poetry, dude. You have to listen. But the Stonington actors understand Performance 101: If you don't speak the language understandably, you get a lot of empty seats. You'll get it. We promise.

9. You want to understand our world today. Shakespeare may have written "Measure for Measure" in 1604, but 406 years later, the lessons about leadership, justice, mercy, love and class rage are still relevant. You got it: If it ain't relevant Shakespeare, we're not doing it!

10. One word: HARMONICAS!!!!

Do You Relate to Shakespeare?

Guest blogger Abigail Bray lives in Blue Hill (Maine) and is a student at Deer Isle-Stonington High School. She enjoys writing and will be contributing posts occasionally during the run of "Measure for Measure" Aug. 19-29 at the Stonington Opera House. She also works at Fisherman's Friend Restaurant, a tasty place to eat dinner before or after the show!

As a sophomore in high school, I found reading “Measure for Measure” for the first time a bit of a struggle. Some of the situations were almost easy to relate to while others were a bit harder. I think we all can agree that there is at least one person in our lives who is strict and stubborn, and who decides to fix whatever situation he or she thinks needs fixing, like Angelo did while the Duke was “out of town.” And at one point or another, we all have to choose between helping someone close to us, or staying true to what we believe in, as Isabella was forced to chose between her virginity and her brother’s life.

Other parts of the play are less easy to relate to. Because things have changed drastically since the 16th century, it is now more common for women to have children out of wedlock. Another situation I cannot relate to is Claudio changing his mind and asking his sister, whom he knows to be very virtuous and chaste, to give up her virginity to save him. It is one thing for Isabella to decide; it’s another to put her in the kind of situation where she feels obligated.

Although “Measure for Measure” isn’t one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, I feel that it helps us compare and contrast the difference in politics and morals of the 16th century with today’s.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Who cares about Shakespeare?

One of the most frequent comments I hear about Shakespeare is: "Why read his plays?" What does a playwright working 400 years ago have to say to us in the 21st century? The language is difficult, the stories are antiquated, the characters are remote from our tech-driven lives and, frankly, who cares?

I love these questions! And "Measure for Measure," which will be performed Aug. 19-29 at the Stonington Opera House, is the perfect play for coming up with answers and addressing these worries and dismissals of the Bard.

Here's the set-up for the story: The Duke of Vienna, seeing that the laws of the land have grown to lax, hands over state duties to his Deputy and goes under cover to watch as his stricter proxy strictly enforces the law. The first person arrested is Claudio, a young gentleman whose fiancee is pregnant. Oops, no pregnancy out of wedlock tolerated! Go straight to jail, Claudio, and prepare to die! But wait: Can Claudio's virgin sister Isabella, who is about to enter a cloister, save her brother's life through pleading with the Deputy? Better yet, will she agree to have sex with the Deputy in exchange for leniency for her brother? And what about the closure of the whore houses in the suburbs? Good for the moral realm, but, ouch, bad for the economy.

O, Vienna, what a tangled web is weaved round your leaders, families and community!

So you think none of this is relevant today? Let's tease out a few themes:
  • Fall guys who take the rap for leaders.
  • Women who are forced to negotiate life and death issues with sex trade.
  • An economy in which the "little guy" (in this case, hookers) gets hurt because of anxieties about the laws, especially concerning the economy. (Hmmm...the word "Arizona" comes to mind.)
  • And what about the morality of religion: Is a woman's virtue and fundamentalism more important than a man's life?

It's enough to make angels weep.

But instead of weeping, why not join us tonight for a community reading of "Measure for Measure" -- 7 p.m. Tuesday Aug. 10 -- at the Brooksville Free Public Library. We sit around a table and read the play with the help of volunteer citizen actors like you. Come read about "then" and think about "now." Most important, let's see if we can answer the big question: Who cares about Shakespeare?