David Grimm’s reconstruction of William Shakespeare’s comedy Measure for Measure walks a very fine line. Retitled Measure for Pleasure, the play is a racy, sexed-up version of the play. Think what would occur if the FOX network got its hands on the Bard’s work.
Except this Pleasure, for all its immature innuendo, actually has legs. While some of the wordplay is less than stellar (rephrasing a word like “succumb,” for example), Grimm manages to keep up an enormous degree of rhymed verse in telling this story of unrequited love and mistaken identity (this is still Shakespeare’s territory, after all).
Manservant Will Blunt (played by the remarkably versatile Michael Stuhlbarg, a Tony-nominee last year for The Pillowman) loves cross-dressing “lady” of the evening Molly Tawdry (Euan Morton, of Taboo fame – or perhaps infamy). Molly, in turn, falls in love with Captain Dick Dashwood (Saxon Palmer), who is in love with Hermione Goode (Emily Swallow, the play’s great discovery).
Dashwood faces competition for Goode’s affections from Sir Peter Lustforth (Wayne Knight of television’s Seinfeld and Third Rock from the Sun), though he is married to Lady Vanity Lustforth (Suzanne Bertish). Meanwhile, Goode’s guardian Dame Stickle (Susan Blommaert) provides an extra line of offense for both potential suitors.
What follows is a series of gender-bending misunderstandings, and director Peter DuBois’ cast is up to every challenge, though Grimm’s script is not always. Some of his rhymes call too much attention to themselves, and other lines are amazingly simple (“Talk to the fan?” Ugh.) And yet at other times, Grimm embraces Shakespeare’s more serious undertones that grounded the original work. Stuhlbarg nails every line of the second act opening monologue, a paean to the search for love in life. He and Morton together engage in one enormously gripping pas de deux – at all times, the audience feels for both of them. Bertish and Blommaert are also wonderful in their less audience-friendly roles. Additionally, DuBois has recruited masterful technical support for Pleasure in the form of Alexander Dodge’s art direction and Anita Yavich’s costume work.
This is one production with much more lurking beneath the surface than one would expect to find. Top-notch performances, direction and a dedication to the original text have amounted to a Pleasure that actually adds to Shakespeare’s work while modifying it.