With a title taken from the Bible (Matthew 7.1-2), it’s no wonder “Measure for Measure” — currently playing in repertory with “All’s Well That Ends Well” in Central Park — broaches moralistic ground. Yet by contorting the role of judgment and mercy with regard to both law and religion, the play is murky about who’s wrong or right.
Should Isabella (Danai Gurira) preserve her virginity at the cost of her brother’s life? Must Lord Angelo (Michael Hayden) uphold outdated laws, like death for premarital sex? Is the duke (Lorenzo Pisoni), who holds himself superior yet sets in motion much of the play’s deception, acting in his constituents’ best interests or merely entertaining himself? These questions are not only subject to audience discretion; sadly, actors seem unable to commit, often becoming louder when scenes call for nuance. In the end, it’s the capricious sinners — backstabbing Lucio (Reg Rogers) and facile Pompey (Carson Elrod) — who seem most steadfast by maintaining their self-serving intents.
Despite being categorized as a comedy — in that everyone marries at the end rather than dies — this plot’s content is bawdy and dark. Costumes and sound superbly capture this tone with leather and corsets, rumbling growls and haunting melodies. Appreciated but underused is the presence of masked demons lurking in the shadows at pivotal points. In the final moment, one last question is posed but unanswered, leaving the heroine in a state of perplexity — and neatly knotting off the noose proven of philosophical or religious fixedness.