Dr. Joseph Arnold, director of Cal State University, Fullerton’s production of Measure for Measure, sets the play in the not unvisited decade of the 1920s. It is an exciting foundation on which to build, allowing the production to explore social liberation, a topic this student body would seemingly relate to.
Adam El-Sharkawi (Duke of Vienna) cohesively weaves the connection of the characters together, infusing energy with his inflections and awaking the audience. Escalus (Amanda Arbues) is changed to the feminine (Escala, deputy in the Duke’s absence), and she is one of the more mature actors whose character keeps order and sustains El-Sharkawi (Duke). Arbues has one of the most thought-provoking lines, “Well, Heaven forgive him, and forgive us all! Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall. Some run from brakes of ice and answer none, And some condemned for a fault alone.” (Here Shakespeare points out there is no crime done for impregnating one’s girlfriend.) Though the play reads that Escala is to speak aside she speaks to Provost. Perhaps this line could be more punctuated if Arbues says it in soliloquy and not in casual conversation.
Geena Lovato (Isabella) pleads with Ryan Jones (Angelo) as she is prodded to approach his desk and be less cold. She goes to touch Jones, but he retreats and gets up from his desk. The two are on opposite ends of the desk with hands on both corners looking into each other’s eyes. At this point the audience can only see one actor’s face at a time or maybe both depending on which of the four sides one is sitting in this black box set up.
One of the standouts is Benji Coelho (Provost), who plays a calm steady character and questions the pending execution of Claudio. He has command of the language and connects to the words in a strong way.
The actors carry the production and have a good pace. Perhaps they could have been surrounded by more stimulating and inspiring costumes, sets and music by adding more color to the costumes, considering that the fashion of the 1920s was a time to rebel against the beige suits of the Edwardian Era. For instance, Mistress Overdone comes out in a brown velvet dress and many other characters are in brown and gray. Every scene has a set change of mostly furniture, such as desks and benches. There are red and white flags representing Vienna hanging from the rafters. A clothesline replaced them in another scene. Before the show starts, high energy music of Scott Joplin plays, but then there never is a peek at the flavorful life that is suggested. In general, there is a missed opportunity for live music and dancing or at least a suggestion of a provocative world going on behind the world of justice.
Director Dr. Joseph Arnold writes that “Measure for Measure suggests a kind of 'tit-for-tat'—that every action demands an equal response.” Lovato (Isabella) and El-Sharkawi do show that there is a consequence to actions by setting up Jones (Angelo), giving the play a sense of fruition.
Measure for Measure plays until April 22, 2012 at the Hallberg Theatre on the Cal State Fullerton's campus.