Elevator Repair Service is known for its unusual productions, but rattling off Shakespearean dialogue as if in a speed-talking contest? That’s just too much of a leap, and apart from occasional laughs and one scene that takes hold emotionally for a short spell, this interpretation of “Measure for measure” is a misguided exercise.
That doesn’t mean that the cast isn’t worthy. Working against the text, the actors do their best to interpret the zany plot of the Bard’s difficult play. It involves a death sentence for unlawful sex before marriage, a scheme to save the condemned that involves his virginal sister pretending to have sex in exchange for a pardon of her brother and a switch in which another woman secretly substitutes for her. I would strongly advise those who venture to see this production to read the play first.
Within the machinations are elements of romance and satire. Under the direction of John Collins the cast cavorts as if performing a wild sketch (a bit over two hours with no intermission). The key performance of the Duke, who disguises himself as a friar with a shawl over his head and at times resembles Marty Feldman as Igor in the film “Young Frankenstein,” is performed creatively by Scott Shepherd.
There are projections of text that cast members can reference if need be, but they seem to be at home with their top-speed discourse. Of course, this thoroughly vitiates the beauty of Shakespeare’s language. What’s the point of that?
The concept doesn’t seem to be a case of a vain director putting forth a silly interpretation of a classic. It represents the valid philosophy of a company basically committed to doing plays uniquely. There is one segment that demonstrates what’s otherwise missing, a conversation between the condemned man, Claudio (Greig Sargeant), and his sister, Isabella (Rinne Groff), that becomes sincere and emotional.
The setting (design by Jim Findlay) is an office-like concentration of adjoining desks, with a half dozen telephones in use. That makes the situation look somewhat up to date (but the phones are old-fashioned).
Yes, this version of “Measure for Measure” is certainly different. It is also a misfire. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Phone: 212-539-8500. Reviewed October 12, 2017.