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Measure for Measure

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Measure for Measure, Next Theatre Company. Notwithstanding the weddings at its end, Measure for Measure isn't a comedy: it's a problem play about public virtue and private vice. All the characters--Angelo, the viceroy who demands sex before dispensing justice; Isabella, the virginal object of his demand; even Duke Vincentio, who ultimately sets things right--struggle with the tension between their genuine beliefs and the morality they profess. Director Jason Loewith double cast his actors to make vivid the point that everyone is masquerading--then chose laughs over ideas. Set in the present, with a radio blaring bulletins of the duke's disappearance, this production nevertheless fails to connect to today the play's critique of government whose actions belie its proclamations.

Several actors manage to salvage something from this stew of half-baked concepts. Kelly Cooper is delightful as Pompey, the pimp whose frankness amounts to integrity, and Raymond Fox is charming as a clueless constable, if in over his head as the many-faced duke. Joseph Wycoff brings a creepy intensity to Angelo, though with his shaved head and leather vest he looks more like rough trade than someone pursuing asceticism as a cure for his demons. Cassandra Bissell, who's saddled with the twin roles of virgin and whore, deserves better: it's impossible to give a convincing performance as an archetype.

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