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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 3.3.11

 

Corrupting Power

Ashlands Oregon Shakespeare Festival runs Feb. 18 through Oct. 9; info & tickets at www.osfashland.org Photo by Jenny Graham

Anthony Heald has landed some plum parts in recent years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival ã Shag/Shakespeare in Equivocation and Shylock in last years Merchant of Venice ã and the actor once again finds himself at the center of a thickly layered, ambiguous play, this one about the nature of power and religious belief. Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure, the festivals Illuminations guide explains, just before he began working on the four major tragedies (Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear). Certainly the script flirts with both comedy and tragedy as Healds Duke of Vienna ("an American town,” explains the playbill) pretends to leave town just to find out what his deputy, Angelo (René Millˆn), will do with his newfound power.

Turns out Angelo doesnt know much about mercy. The town is full of pimps, whores and kids who sleep together before theyre married, and Angelos determined to clean it up (the setting for the play is 1975, with Vienna sitting near the Mexico/U.S. border). The plot includes the Duke disguising himself as a friar; the efforts of Isabela, a novice nun (Stephanie Beatriz, quite good in a role tremendously different from last years Maggie the Cat), to free her brother Claudio (Frankie Alvarez) from the death sentence Angelo gives him for getting his girlfriend (Alejandra Escalante) pregnant; and a bunch of side plots involving Lucio (Kenajuan Bentley, sublimely masterful in the comic role), Mistress Overdone (Cristofer Jean) and Pompey (Ramiz Monsef, also quite good).

The self-proclaimed incorruptible Angelo finds himself intensely attracted to Isabela, telling her that if she gives him her body, he may save her brothers life. Can the Duke save everyone? Should he? And what about his own weaknesses? Go to this messy, multi-layered, complex production and let Las Colibri ã a mariachi band ® and Clint Ramos set transport you to the halls and brothels of power, where you can discover the answers for yourself. ã Suzi Steffen