*Measure For Measure,* 10/15/17
I saw *Measure For Measure* at the Public Theater on 10/15/17. This wasn't your garden variety Shakespeare production - - it was even more dynamic and revolutionary than the German *Richard III* I had seen at BAM two nights before. It was a production by the Elevator Repair Service, an avant grade downtown theatre company. I first became aware of them in 2007, when Karen Miller told me about their production of *Gatz,* a staging of *The Great Gatsby.* The entire novel. Every word of the book. It was eight hours from start to finish (with two intermissions and a dinner break) and one of the most extraordinary, astonishing, original things I've ever seen in my life. It would be in the top five greatest things I've ever seen, definitely (a list I might need to actually write down). I wish I had been writing reviews back then, because as well as I remember the show, I would remember it more clearly, and more richly remind my memory, if I had a review to read. Karen and I also saw their adaptation of a section of *The Sound and the Fury* in 2015. That wasn't as great, but still fascinating and worth seeing.
I saw a sort of workshop performance of the first act of *Measure For Measure* at the 92nd Street Y just over a year ago (you can read the review in my archive, under Theatre -> Plays). The artistic director of the company, John Collins, explained that they had made their reputation doing offbeat literary adaptations, and he thought it would be a good experiment to do a play. He thought about Shakespeare, and as a way of deciding which play to do, he got his actors together and they read through scenes from various Shakespeare plays. Two of the actors did the famous prison scene from *Measure For Measure,* and he experimented with them doing it very slowly, with long pauses.. They all thought it was very effective. Another day they didn't have enough scripts for whatever play they were doing, so someone found a script online and projected it onto the screen (they were in a conference room at the Public Theater). They liked the experience of reading the play off the screen. Collins mused on that for a while and came up with the concept of doing a production of *Measure For Measure* in which the actors memorized their roles, but the pacing of the scene would be dictated by a teleprompter sort of contraption. The actors would watch the screen out of the corners of their eyes and match the pace of the text as it rolled by.. They did the entire first act of *Measure For Measure* and it only took twenty-five minutes, because they were speaking so fast. They did the entire play in the production I saw, and it took just over two hours.
The show was coursing with energy and wit, and the play itself is full of surprises. I loved the show, laughed quite a lot, was drawn into the genera giddiness of the production. Collins uses a lot of music, which could bother me, but it was well done and added to the madcap flavor. The prison scene was the highlight of the show, because the pacing was slow and there were no wacky costumes or funny music, it was just an intense performance of the scene. It was like a close-up in a movie.
All of the actors were wonderful, but three in particular stood out. Scott Shepherd played the Duke, and he was bursting with star quality. You might have seen him in a juicy supporting role in *Bridge of Spies,* or playing Jude Law's best friend in *The Young Pope.* This was the fifth time I've seen him onstage, and I love what he does (I've included an outline of these shows in Appendix A below). Rinne Groff played Isabella, the female lead. I'd never heard of her, but she appears to be best known as a playwright. Her performance was full of warmth and intelligence, she was the emotional center of the show. And Susie Sokol played a number of small parts. She played Jordan in *Gatz* and one of the central roles in *The Sound and the Fury.* She just tickles me, I think she's adorable. I'm also drawn to her personal story - - she reaches second grade at St. Ann's School in Brooklyn. She's taught there since 1996 and has appeared in every Elevator Repair Service production, back to 1992.
Let me put it this way: the show was worth every penny of the $150 I spent on it. YES! I, who almost never spend more than $75 on anything. There's a funny story here. I told Karen Miller about the 92nd Street Y performance I saw last summer and she was definitely interested in seeing the show when it was done at the Public. I stalked the Public website and was thrilled at the end of the summer when they finally announced the date that tickets would go on sale, and the performance schedule. Karen and I got our calendars together and chose a date and time. I told her I would be online at the precise moment when the tickets went on sale (August 3rd, 2 PM) and just go right ahead and buy us two tickets. I didn't want to risk the show selling out, I didn't want to text her or find her at work, I wanted to have the runway cleared to just go right ahead and do it.
August 3rd. 2 PM. I logged into the Public website, chose the performance I wanted, chose two seats. They wisely didn't say how much tickets were until you got to the point where you were about the enter your credit card number. Or not! I called up Karen, thankfully she was at her desk.
ME: I'm at the point where I"m about the buy our tickets. I thought I should let you know that the ticket price is $150.
KAREN: Oh wow.
ME: Yeah, my thoughts exactly.
KAREN: That's more than I want to spend.
ME: Yeah, me too.
We gabbed for a while longer and I hung up. I went back to whatever I was doing (something dull and work-related, it being a regular work day) but couldn't stop thinking about the show. I bit the bullet and went back online and bought a ticket. I called up Karen to tell her.
ME: I decided that I'm getting those free tickets from BAM this fall. And from another perspective, I would spent $70 or so for this *Measure For Measure* ticket anyway, so I really only have to "raise" another $80. That's not so bad.
KAREN: That's interesting, how you justified that. I would go at it from another angle.
ME: What do you mean?
KAREN: I would think, "Can I justify spending $150 on this, taking $150 out of the money I'll need when I retire?"
Oh Lord, it burns! It BURNS!
I've been saying for years that Cate Blanchett needs to do a production of O'Neill's *Strange Interlude.* I'm adding another wish to my list - - the Elevator Repair Service has a long-standing relationship with the Public Theater. Oscar Eustis wrote a program note that they've basically become a resident company at the Public. How about getting them to do a full Shakespeare in the Park production along these lines, or get Collins to direct one?
* * *
APPENDIX A: SCOTT SHEPHERD
2007: I saw him in the Wooster Group *Hamlet,* a production that used a film of the Richard Burton 1964 Broadway *Hamlet* as its jumping-off point. Shepherd played Hamlet, and mirrored what Burton did on the screen behind him.
2010: He played the narrator in *Gatz.* The Elevator Repair Service had toured with the show for a while before Karen and I saw it at the Public, and Shepherd told director Collins, "You want to hear something funny? I know the entire novel." So they decided that he would do the entire fourth act from memory. Beyond that that sort of parlor trick, he gave a touching, fascinating performance.
2013: He did *A Piece of Work* at BAM, an abstract assembly of words and phrases from *Hamlet,* guided by a computer. Read the review on my archive: Reviews -> Other Genres -> *A Piece of Work.*
2015: He did *Cry, Trojans!* with the Wooster Group. My favorite memory of that show was the love scene that he did with Kate Valk, the two of the mirroring a scene with Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty from *Splendor In the Grass* (which was being screened onstage simultaneously). Reviews -> Theatre -> *Cry, Trojans!*
APPENDIX B: TOP FIVE
This list of my Top Five cultural events ever could change tomorrow, but this is what it is today:
1991: *Plague Mass,* Diamanda Galás
1992: *Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,* Met Opera
2010: *Gatz,* The Elevator Repair Service
2011: *Atys,* Les Arts Florissants
2014: The six Bartok string quartets, Chiara String Quartet