Measure for Measure

by Clinton Campbell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday October 25, 2018

Alexander Matrosov, Peter Rykov, Alexander Arsentyev in "Measure for Measure" at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre through October 28. (Photo Credit: Johan Persson)
Alexander Matrosov, Peter Rykov, Alexander Arsentyev in "Measure for Measure" at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre through October 28. (Photo Credit: Johan Persson)  

Shakespeare in Russian? Yes. It is challenging and does require some effort; so do the themes of "Measure for Measure." But the current collaborative production by Moscow's Pushkin Theatre and London's Cheek by Jowl makes the effort worth it with a timely and devastating production.

Often referred to as one of Shakespeare's "problem plays," neither tragedy nor comedy, the themes addressed are hardly those modern audiences would consider funny. We are confronted with the corruption of power, sexual assault, blackmail, justice vs. mercy, as well as the ideas of grace and repentance.

The Duke of Vienna tells his advisors he is going on a diplomatic mission but instead goes undercover as a friar within his own dukedom — such as Henry V does prior to the Battle of Agincourt. He soon discovers that one of his most trusted judges, Angelo, is drunk with power and that people's lives hang in the balance. Angelo has given a young novice nun a choice — her virtue or her brother's head.

Streamlined to just under two hours without intermission, Shakespeare's play seems fresher than ever in the era of Weinstein and #MeToo. It truly almost feels like a newly written work.

The production is very physical with the company often moving in unison. The humor is dark, cynical, and biting. Additionally, there is a laser focus of intent from each and every performer that captivates throughout.

Audiences who already find Shakespeare difficult may be reluctant to add the challenge of a foreign language. But Pushkin Theatre/Cheek by Jowl have made a production that is surprisingly accessible and extremely relevant.

"Measure for Measure" continues through October 28 at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre, 219 Tremont Street, Boston, MA. For further information, visit the ArtsEmerson website.