Measure for Measure
Good luck making sense of the hallucinatory, creepy and altogether puzzling opening sequence of David Esbjornson's Shakespeare in the Park production of "Measure for Measure."
A group of actors wearing horns and tight black bodysuits scamper around the stage like demons and unveil a mound of decayed dead bodies lying on a twin bed.
Although these creatures continue to materialize every now and then, this otherwise remains a pretty solid production.
Just like "All's Well That Ends Well," which is being performed simultaneously by the same cast on the same set, "Measure for Measure" is one of Shakespeare's so-called "problem plays." Although technically considered a comedy, it contains many dark elements.
On a whim, the Duke of Vienna (Lorenzo Pisoni) announces that he will temporarily leave the city and invests all his power in Angelo (Michael Hayden), who begins his rule by reviving harsh laws that forbid premarital sex.
When young Claudio (Andre Holland) is sentenced to death for impregnating his fiancee, his lewd friend Lucio (Reg Rogers) recruits Claudio's devout sister Isabella (Danai Gurira), who is on the verge of becoming a nun, to plead for his life.
Angelo, who finds himself hopelessly attracted to Isabella, offers to spare Claudio's life if she will sleep with him.
The Duke, who is actually still in town and secretly posing as a priest, concocts a trick in which Angelo will actually sleep with his former fiancée Mariana (Annie Parisse) instead of Isabella.
Pisoni's performance emphasizes the Duke's good-natured but erratic and unpredictable behavior.
Gurira makes for a fierce and intelligent Isabella, capturing the character's mixed feelings regarding Claudio's fate as well as anger over the political corruption she witnesses firsthand.
If you go: "Measure for Measure" plays at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park through July 30. Visit publictheater.org for directions and info on how to receive FREE tickets.