The following article appeared in the
Greenfield Recorder on Thursday, June 20, 2002.
A measured production
Hampshire Shakespeare Company opens for another summer
By GEORGE W. CLAXTON
HADLEY - Sex and the clergy, law and morality, a politician overcome by sexual desire, and another confused about his place in the world; motifs that could be ripped from today's headlines, but these are the fundamental themes of the first of two plays offered this summer by the Hampshire Shakespeare Company.
Andrew Lichtenberg, who is directing this year's production of William Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure," says that he wanted to do this particular play because it deals with so many modern themes.
"The play has a very contemporary sensibility. Especially now with all of the questions about the clergy and morality, politics and sexuality," he said.
The major plot thread of the play concerns the Duke of Vienna who leaves his throne, temporarily, to go anonymously among his people in the guise of a monk. While he is off the throne, the duke turns his governmental powers over to his cousin, who is considered to be a man of strong moral character, but whose weakness becomes manifest in short order.
As soon as he takes the throne, the cousin, Angelo, imposes an absolute interpretation of the cityís laws, including one statute that imposes the death penalty for pre-marital sex.
Caught up in the web of sexual repression is a man named Claudio who is living out of wedlock with his childhood sweetheart. When the girlís parents complain about the young people's living arrangements, Angelo has Claudio arrested and condemned to the execution block for the crime of seduction.
It is the harshness of the punishment to be imposed upon Claudio that sets up the action in the play, for when the condemned manís sister comes to plead for her brotherís life, Angelo becomes enamored of her beauty and virginal goodness and blackmails her into having sex with him in exchange for her siblingís freedom.
Harry Bauld, who plays Angelo in this year's production, said that this contradiction is one of the things that drew him to the character.
"The thing that's attractive about him is the complexity of his hypocrisy," the actor said.
Bauld said that, as an actor, it is fun for him to explore the reasons for Angelo's dissembling and the cause of his desire to suborn Claudio's sister, Isabella.
Lichtenberg said that part of Anegelo's complexity is that he is not an entirely evil man.
"You will see in the rape of the nun scene that Angelo actually has feelings for this girl," he said. "That doesn't justify the act, of course, but it does make him easier to understand as a human being."
According to Lichtenberg, one of the things that makes the play so interesting is that all of the characters are fallible and that they all make serious errors in judgment from which they must recover.
"I don't think you can really defend Angelo, but, in the end, he realizes that he has screwed up. He is not totally evil. He is not Iago," Bauld said.
Iago is the villain of Shakespeare's "Othello" whose vicious schemes and machinations persuade the noble Moor to jealousy and murder.
Othello was one of the plays presented last season by the Hampshire Shakespeare Company, which is entering its 12th year interpreting the works of the Bard of Avon in the Pioneer Valley.
The director said that no matter how low a cad Angelo is, he is to some degree redeemed by the fact that Mariana, the fiancee that he had previously spurned, still loves him.
"For whatever reason, the girl really loves Angelo," he said.
Lichtenberg maintains that, although Angelo is manipulative and hypocritical, at heart he wants to do good for the city. He said that the character is trying to impose order on an infamously libertine town, where seduction and living out of wedlock are common, when he takes the reins of power from his royal cousin.
"It is because he is so strict in his interpretation of the rules and of his own idea of how he should behave that he takes such extreme measures when he is found out," the director said.
"All of these characters make mistakes and they must learn and grow from this. Even Isabella, who at first seems so perfect, makes the mistake of trusting Angelo, not once but twice, even though he has shown himself to be base and untrustworthy. She is very naive at the beginning of the play and develops and learns from what she sees and the people she meets in the course of the drama," he added.
Isabella begins the play as a novice at a convent in the town who leaves rarefied environment of the cloister in order to save her brother from the ax.
Elaine Qualter, who plays Isabelle in the production, said that she wanted the part mostly because of the struggle the character undergoes between her lofty beliefs and what she learns about the true nature of human fallibility.
"I like Isabella because she has this religious fervor. She is grounded, but still idealistic," the actress said.
According to Qualter, Lichtenberg set the mood for the play during the casting of Isabella.
"Andy pitted me against my best friend in the audition," she said, noting that directors can be as devious as politicians in achieving their ends.
During its long history, the Hampshire Shakespeare Company has performed all of the Bard's better known plays and done readings from his other works.
In addition to doing plays, the company holds educational workshops for children and adults and does a "young company" series as part of their summer season. This summer, throughout July and August, the company is holding workshops for children ages 5 to 7 in which they will play theater games and create scenes with the aid of simple costumes and props. There will also be workshops in sword fighting for the stage and how to perform musical theater.
According to Lichtenberg, at least partially because of the educational component in the groupís mission, the members of the company expend considerable intellectual capital on determining the motivations and reasoning behind the actions of all of the characters in the drama.
Mark Dean, who plays the duke, said that his character is often portrayed, in productions of the play, as a great manipulator, a social puppeteer.
"The traditional presentation is that he is a perfect strategist and that everything be does works just as planned. We don't do that," he said.
According to Dean, the Hampshire Shakespeare production takes the tack that the duke has made a major mistake at the beginning of the play and spends the rest of his time on stage trying to recover.
"Our duke is so far from being able to deal with reality that he is anything but manipulative," Lichtenberg said.
Dean says that the duke begins the play as a kind of ivory tower theoretician who is merely playing at governance.
"I love a lot of things about the duke, how he tries to be, through trial and error, a better ruler," he said.
Even though they portray the duke as a fallible man trying to feel his way along in learning to become the best ruler he can be, the actors in the play have a hard time reconciling Shakespeare's allowing the duke to absolve Angelo of his sins at the end of the play.
In the finale, the duke orders his cousin to wed Mariana before he is executed for his actions, but the politician's newly minted wife begs for her husband's life and entreats the fair Isabella to lend her aid.
"They say, the best men are molded out of faults and for the most part become much the better for being a little bad. So may my husband," Mariana says in the play.
Lichtenberg said that he believes the playwright preserved Angelo because he is still useful as a politician and the duke can use his skills without fear that he will ever stray again.
"This is a play about practical politics. The duke is not free from sin either. It is a problem, his forgiving Angelo, but it works better if no one involved in the situation is without blame," he said.
Performances of "Measure for Measure" begin on June 26 at 7 p.m. and continue Wednesdays through Sundays until July 14. All performances will be held at the Hartsbrook School on Bay Road in Hadley and discounts on tickets are available for groups of 10 or more. Tickets are $12 general admission, $9 for students and seniors, and $6 for children under 18.
For additional information, interested parties should call 413-498-2210.
The second half of the Hampshire Shakespeare season will consist of a performance of the "Winterís Tale" which will be performed from July 17 through July 28. There will also be a Hampshire Shakespeare Young Company production of the "Winterís Tale" Aug. 2 through Aug. 4. All performances are at 7 p.m. at the Hartsbrook School.