Shakespeare Measures Up

In the latest adaptation of Measure for Measure, based on one of Shakespeare’s darkest comedies, director Arin Arbus and Theatre for a New Audience successfully update this classic play for a 21st century audience.

By having the actors dress in contemporary clothing and modernizing some of Shakespeare’s language, the director makes the play accessible to those not too familiar with Shakespeare’s work and adds a new twist on an old favorite for those who are Shakespeare-philes.

Furthermore, the Duke on 42nd Street Theatre provides an intimate space, making audiences feel as if they are a part of all the action.

Measure for Measure tells the story of the Duke of Vienna, who vacates his office so that he can disguise himself as a friar in order to learn the innermost thoughts of his Viennese subjects. He chooses Angelo as his replacement due to his hard-nosed views about justice. Angelo’s first order of business as the new duke is to make an example out of Claudio, whose girlfriend is having a child out of wedlock, sentencing the young man to death. Claudio’s sister, Isabella, tries to persuade Angelo to release her brother. These events all lead up to the return of the duke.

The director skillfully draws out the comedic moments of the play and the actors bring Shakespeare’s humor, which may fall flat on the page, to life. This is because the comedic characters have been cast so perfectly.

Alfredo Narcisco, as Lucio, provides subtle, dark humor; John Christopher Jones, as Elbow, garners laughs thanks to his slow, dejected enunciation of lines and slumped posture; and John Keating, as Pompey, truly steals the show with over-the-top curly hair, a suit straight out of a bad ’80s movie, his execution of his lines and his physical behavior.

But the heart of this production lies within the two scenes between Angelo (played by Rocco Sisto) and Isabella (played by Elisabeth Waterson) thanks to the choice of actors, who are able to effectively portray a struggle for dominance.

Sisto brings his character to life with a creepy, almost sinister, portrayal of Angelo. In this version of Measure for Measure, Angelo is an older man preying on a younger girl.

Waterson is spot-on in her portrayal of Isabella, who, during the course of the play, blossoms into a woman who understands her power and is willing to use it to save her brother’s life.

The two are equally matched onstage in wit and even in height, but their huge age difference adds an interesting dynamic to their relationship. The tension between Angelo and Isabella culminates in a shocking moment that audiences will not see coming.

Overall, Arbus has skillfully adapted Shakespeare’s classic play about different types of authority into something quite enjoyable for the modern-day audience.

Measure for Measure features a cast of talented dramatic and comedic actors that bring all of the characters to life.

Although the running time is a little long at two hours and 40 minutes, the time flies by quickly thanks to a balanced mix of dark humor and central questions about authority that will always be timeless.

Measure for Measure is playing at the Duke Theatre on 42nd Street, located at 229 W. 42nd St., now until March 14. For ticket information, visit