Review: Spicy Witch Gives New Meaning to 'Justice' in "Measure for Measure"
Measure for Measure
Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted and directed by Phoebe Brooks
Presented by Spicy Witch Productions at The Flea Theater
20 Thomas St., Manhattan, NYC
May 18-June 1, 2019
|Blake Kelton Prentiss and Pearl Shin. Photo credit: Phoebe Brooks
|Shavana Clarke, Blake Kelton Prentiss, and Mia Canter. Photo credit: Phoebe Brooks
Brooks and Spicy Witch reduce Shakespeare’s characteristically sprawling cast of characters and trim some of the subplots and the main plot’s complications, setting this fresh, fast-moving version in the world of the contemporary judiciary and gender-swapping everyone except Angelo and Claudio. Duke Vincentio becomes Chief Justice Vincentia (Mia Canter), wearing a jabot that directly evokes Ruth Bader Ginsberg; Escalus, a lord and Angelo’s secondary, becomes Justice Escala (Shavana Clarke) and Vincentio’s confidante Friar Thomas is reporter Mrs. Thomas (Renita Lewis). The production combines Mariana, Angelo’s cast-off intended, and Mistress Overdone, a bawd, into the unapologetic, leopard print-wearing Mariana Overdone (Sarah Rosengarten). Claudio (Stephen Zuccaro) is a senator rather than a gentleman and Isabella (Pearl Shin, whose character in The Virtuous Fall of the Girls from Our Lady of Sorrows wishes that Isabella were a character in M4M2 so that she could play her) a legal intern rather than a novice. While the flowers dressing the stage space remain the same as in The Virtuous Fall of the Girls from Our Lady of Sorrows—and retain many of same symbolic possibilities regarding traditional constructions of femininity, here with more emphasis on purity, given the centrality of Isabella’s virgin chastity to Shakespeare’s main plot—the portraits of female saints are replaced by portraits of men ensconced in the robes of authority.
|Ashi Lee and Sarah Rosengarten. Photo credit: Phoebe Brooks
Lee is both charismatic and very funny as Lucia, and Prentiss’s Angelo exudes an appropriate smarmy self-confidence in juxtaposition to Shin’s determined, upright Isabella. The comic punctuation of Angelo’s assistant owes a lot to Lewis’s performance, while the play’s seventeenth-century dialogue sounds decidedly natural coming from Guidry, in an excellent turn as Officer Provost. This production adjusts the specifics of how pardon and punishment are doled out in the end in ways that both are thematically appropriate and allow the audience to enjoy the spectacle of women measuring out justice. Spicy Witch’s Measure for Measure is an inventive, sharply focused, and fun reimagining of a problem comedy for problematic times.
-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards