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October 19, 2017
Review: Elevator Repair Service’s ‘Measure for Measure’
Pete Simpson and Rinne Groff in Elevator Repair Service’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE, created by Elevator Repair Service and directed by John Collins, running at The Public Theater. Photo credit: Richard Termine

For their first foray into Shakespeare, Elevator Repair Service, New York’s stalwarts of experimental theatre, tackle Measure for Measure at the Public Theatre. ERS delivers a screwball, slapstick rendering of the Bard’s problem play that is in turns hilarious, bizarre and inscrutable — entirely inscrutable, I might venture, for someone who isn’t familiar with the text. To crib the comment of a fellow audience member: “I wouldn’t want this to be the only Measure for Measure I ever saw.” But anyone who’s familiar with the company’s take on The Sound and the Fury, The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, and others knows that you can’t expect a straightforward rendering from artistic director John Collins and co.; they find a unique way into each text they interpret.

At The Public’s LuEsther Theater, the text of the play has a near constant physical presence, scrolling up and down and sideways along the walls throughout — in part as a way to set the actors’ pace, director Collins writes. And the pace of the two-hour, no intermission run is often break-neck. To achieve this tight performance, the company frequently speeds unintelligibly through chunks of monologue and dialogue alike. Meanwhile, in a 1930s styled Marx Brothers tribute, the action takes place in frenetic loops around, on top of, and behind a large, horseshoe desk that nearly fills the stage.

In the play’s best moments, the troupe’s approach works to expose the more absurd thematic elements of the text, which walks a very fine line between serious moralizing and lighthearted comedy (I’m thinking of a gruesome bit of slapstick involving severed heads). Scott Shepherd is a strong lead as the voyeuristic Duke, finding a balance between the sinister and sanctimonious aspects of the character. But Pete Simpson steals the show as Angelo, the rule abiding Duke-in-Absentia who is nearly tempted to gross hypocrisy by Isabella (played with seriousness and charm by Rinne Groff), a soon-to-be-nun who pleads for the life of her brother Claudio, sentenced to die for impregnating his girlfriend. As Angelo wrestles with his lust for Isabella, his fits and furies explode beyond his body in spasmodic tantrums cum interpretive dance moves. Vin Knight provides laughs as the blundering lackey Escalus.

ERS’s Measure for Measure is a fitting addition to The Public’s Astor Anniversary Season. For Shakespeare purists, this interpretation may strike as overly-avant, and complete novices may find themselves in the dark, but for the many of us somewhere in the middle, it’s a one-of-a-kind tribute. It demonstrates the endless ways Shakespeare can be reinvented and reasserted as a salient voice for our time and for centuries to come.

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Review: The Sound and The Fury

By Emily Gawlak

Feared and revered by high school students and English majors, William Faulkner is easily one of the most brilliant — and one of the most challenging — Titans of American literature. It’s no surprise then, to find out that he was on the radar of Elevator Repair Service, a theater troupe with a reputation not only for boundary pushing and post-modern experimentation, but also for tackling literary texts in their entirety, such as 2005’s eight hour adaptation of The Great Gatsby, Gatz, in which the entire novel was read word for word. Like Faulkner, Elevator Repair Service is known for boldness and genius, as well as works that can be perplexing and at times, overwhelming. These two entities, Faulkner and ERS, come together with a bang in The Sound and The Fury, onstage now at the Public Theater. To enter and interpret the work, ERS focused on the first section of the four part novel, April Seventh, 1928, keeping the text completely intact for their two hour performance. This first section is told by Benjy Compson, the severely mentally retarded youngest son of the Compson household, a decaying southern dynasty. Though the text of the play is entirely Faulkner’s, unspoken clues hel …Read more

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Written by: Emily Gawlak
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