Published Friday
June 27, 2003

Review: Cast makes 'Measure' some of Bard's best

BY JIM DELMONT                                                  Back to News      

 

WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

Graced with two exceptional performances - those of Elizabeth Zins and Bernie Sheredy - Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" impressed an audience of 2,600 Thursday on a perfect summer evening. Marvelously directed by Scott Freeman, this study of law, justice and mercy achieved an uncannily modern expression in one of the best productions ever in the 17-year history of Shakespeare on the Green.

In fact, if the Bard hadn't switched to a jocular mood at the end, neatly and cheerfully tying up all the plot elements, the play might stand much higher in his repertory as a serious masterpiece. But taken as it is, it offers directors an opportunity seized by Freeman to frame it as a modern drama, in modern dress.

"Measure for Measure"
What: Nebraska Shakespeare Festival production
When: 7 p.m. greenshow, 8 p.m. play, today and Sunday and July 3 and 6

Where: Elmwood Park, adjacent to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, 60th and Dodge Streets

Tickets: Free admission, but contributions accepted

Information: 280-2391

Electrifying is the acting of Zins as Isabella, who is dressed in a nun's habit and about to take her vows when she hears that her brother, Claudio, has been sentenced to death for sleeping with his fiancee, who is now pregnant. Zins' canny, confident and moving performance is a gem, as is that of Sheredy as the duke of the realm who disguises himself as a monk. Sheredy, also brilliant in Cindy Phaneuf's version of "Twelfth Night," the other play in repertory this season, has a relaxed authority, a keen sense of character and an amiable charm that carried him through this long and difficult part.

The relatively small cast included the very inventive and engaging Jason O'Connell, as Lucio, a somewhat low fellow who is a friend of the condemned Claudio. Dressed in California fashion, with sunglasses, he provided most of the comic relief. David Christopher Wells, in good voice, made a haughty and sneaky Angelo.

Freeman has trimmed this longish play, eliminating some of the low comedy that Shakespeare larded his plays with, in order to keep the focus on the drama of Isabella and Claudio.

To test him, the Duke has lent his authority to his deputy, Angelo, and it is he who pronounces the death sentence on Claudio. The Duke, supposedly away from Vienna, then disguises himself to observe Angelo's performance.

Angelo is a born authoritarian - and a hypocrite. Like many tyrants, he hides his sadism behind the letter of the law, but upon meeting Isabella when she pleads for her brother, he develops an instant design upon her and would commit fornication as readily as Claudio, who at least loves his intended.

Michael Kroeker is sincere as Claudio and local actress Deborah Anne Radloff does very well in the small role of Claudio's fiancee, Juliet.

Holding their own with the New York actors were Nebraskans Jill Anderson as Marianna, spurned by Angelo, and Cork Ramer, as the prison guard/provost. Anderson added some lovely singing notes.

The Grecian villa set for "Twelfth Night" is fitted over with square panels in a modernist facade that serves multiple purposes. Freeman has some of his actors standing against portions of it for long periods, their backs to the action - mute witnesses.

As bluejays flitted between the trees, those fortunate enough to be there saw as good an acting ensemble as any in the years of Shakespeare productions in Elmwood Park. To quote one of the characters, "merciful heavens." What a good play!

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