The Measure of “Measure: Duke Vincentio

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In our “The Measure of Measure” series, we interviewed castmembers of Measure for Measure about how they approached their characters in this challenging play. Our final interview addresses the play’s leading man, the “absent” Duke Vincentio.duke pic

  1. Who are you and who do you play?

My name is John Moss and I am playing Duke Vincentio.  Commonly referred to only as the Duke, as he is one of those many characters in Shakespeare whose proper name is never spoken.  Coincidentally, this is the second time this has happened to me as I have previously played Oliver in As You Like It. 

  1. What prior Shakespeare experience do you have?

 I have previously performed with both the Virginia Shakespeare Festival and the Richmond Shakespeare Festival.  I have also studied Shakespeare at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  This would be my second production with Britches and Hose.

  1. Tell us about your character. What motivates him?

 The Duke is motivated by a genuine desire to do good.  He feels responsible for the moral decline in his city after years of inattentive rule and later for the fates of those caught up in the subsequent crackdown of vice.  He recognizes that exterior forces are limited in their ability to enforce morality, so he instead uses subterfuge and misdirection to help his subjects re-establish their own moral codes.

  1. Though the Duke is the largest role in the play–both in number of lines and in time spent onstage–he spends a lot of time observing and arranging things behind the scenes. He also spends much of the play in disguise. What are the challenges of approaching a character like this?

The greatest challenge I had in crafting my performance of the Duke was addressing pre-conceived notions of the Duke based on production history or reverse engineering the character from the end of Act V as a protagonist in a “problem play”.  Often the Duke is portrayed as someone who likes being in disguise and enjoys setting up elaborate scenarios, but the text reveals a man who is doing these things for the first time in his life and is unsure that any of it is going to work.  He is not “the mad fantastical Duke of dark corners” as Lucio mis-identifies him, but someone on a journey out of self-impose seclusion into a world of fulfilling social interaction and obligation.

Also, with respect to possible spoilers, at the end of the play the Duke makes a surprising declaration (twice!) for which there is no definitive textual support.  Further complicating the matter, the character the declaration affects most has not textual or voiced response provided by Shakespeare.  I believe that audiences and readers sense the narrative friction of that moment and for many productions this moment ends up defining the character more than the rest of the play.  Briefly, I would say my greatest challenge is to have my character define that moment, instead of having that moment dictate my character.

  1. What else do you feel the audience should know about your character and the play itself?

 Measure for Measure is often considered a problem play.  Not often taught in secondary school.  I work in a bookstore and I had to special order my copy because my store does not maintain a copy on the shelves.  So what is it that makes it a problem play?  Would Shakespeare’s audiences at the Globe or the Blackfriars considered it so?  What does it mean that after Angelo and Isabella’s final interaction in Act III, both characters are largely relegated to supporting statuses in the plot?

For me, it is almost as if Shakespeare is running as fast as he can from a scene that becomes too real.  What does it mean that the Duke’s lines at the conclusion of the play are fixed (the actor performing them must say them), but the actress playing Isabel (who has no lines in that moment) has a range of non-verbal responses she can choose?  Which character/performer really has more agency in that moment?

Finally, if Measure for Measure is indeed a problem play, is there an expectation that productions attempt to seek a solution or is the play best served by highlighting and exposing its flaws?

 

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The Measure of “Measure”: Mariana

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In our “The Measure of Measure” series, we interviewed castmembers of Measure for Measure about how they approached their characters in this challenging play. This interview addresses Mariana, Angelo’s erstwhile fiancee who proves critical to the plot.mariana pic

  1. Who are you and who do you play? 

My name is Amy Griffin and I am playing Mariana.  This is my second production with B&H and I’m really excited to be doing Measure for Measure!  I’m originally from DE but am happy to be calling VA home again. When I’m not onstage I enjoy tea time, traveling and board games.

  1. What prior Shakespeare experience do you have?

I first fell in love with Shakespeare in high school, despite everyone telling me that Shakespeare was a bore and impossible to understand.  I’m so glad I never listened.  Since then I’ve played Cassius in Julius Caesar, Ursula in Much Ado About Nothing and Hippolyta in A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  One of my all time favorite experiences with the Bard was the time I directed Twelfth Night in college.  I had just gotten back from a summer semester in Morocco and inspired by all the colors and sounds of the region we set it there, complete with original music.  After college it was some time before I got to return to Shakespeare, but when I got the opportunity while working at Colonial Williamsburg to write a program about Shakespeare in the 18th Century I jumped at the chance.  We performed scenes from some of the most popular productions of the day, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet along with entr’acte songs written by Henry Purcell for The Tempest.  Fun fact: The first troupe of professional actors, the Lewis Hallam Company, made their debut performance in Williamsburg, VA, in the first permanent playhouse in British North America, with The Merchant of Venice.

  1. Tell us about your character. What motivates her? 

Mariana is a young lady, once betrothed to Angelo, who has been living alone in her “moated grange” since Angelo jilter her five years ago when her fortune was lost at sea.  Though it has been 5 years her love for Angelo has not diminished and she is ready to aide Isabella when she and the disguised Duke come to Mariana for help.  Though she’s someone who’s been wronged but she doesn’t let it tear her apart; she would never want to be pitied.  Instead of losing it, she derives such a sense of resolve from her situation and that allows her to do what she does in this play.  

  1. Mariana is kind of a fan favorite to Shakespearean scholars. To a modern audience, her arc can be a little difficult. How do you as an actor work to develop her, especially given her limited time onstage?

I confess I didn’t know much about Mariana when I was first offered the role but I’ve really fallen in love with her during the rehearsal process.  To modern eyes I think it’s very easy to label her as either “desperate” or “too good for him” in regards to her relationship with Angelo.  On one hand she could be “desperate’ because of how she so quickly (about 6 lines alone with Isabella as the Duke monologues) she agrees to Isabella’s “bed trick” and on the other hand she could be “too good for him” because once all is revealed of Angelo’s behavior with Isabella and his personal slights against her (jilting her and publicly accusing her of impropriety) she still takes him back.

Indeed, to a modern audience it has all the marks of an emotionally abusive relationship but I think it’s too easy to make Mariana a sweet damsel in distress that is mooning over an old love who probably isn’t worth the trouble anyway.  Moreover, it cheapens her plea for Angelo’s life at the end of the play.  One of the many themes in this play is forgiveness in spite of confessed guilt; we see this with both Claudio and Angelo.  Isabella’s quest for mercy for her brother allows her to extend forgiveness to Angelo at the play’s end and the Duke’s position gives him the power to pardon the crimes of all.  Mariana’s arc is probably most difficult to portray because it has already taken place before we even meet her in Act 4.  She has forgiven Angelo long ago and is so sure of her course that it makes it easy for her to say yes to Isabella’s shocking request of her.

I think the surety that she has of her own character makes her a good judge of one as well.  She immediately sees Isabella as a true friend just as she knows that Angelo is worthy of redemption.  I’ve tried to portray that confidence while giving the audience a character that they can still relate to. For who hasn’t seen a spark of something in someone that they love that is worth fighting for, despite their admitted faults and what the rest of the world says against them. 

  1. What else do you feel the audience should know about your character and the play itself?

Justice vs. mercy and forgiveness is one of the biggest struggles in Measure for Measure.  I mentioned before the key role that forgiveness has throughout the play.  In terms of their personalities no two people better personify those dueling themes than Angelo and Mariana.  Angelo is a man of the law through and through, so much so that he seems to miss the forest for the trees.  He is so tied to the letter of the law that he misses the true difference between right and wrong.  In fact, you could argue that it’s what drives him to give up Mariana in the first place.  I personally believe that they were both in love, but when the law robbed her of her fortune he felt duty bound to leave her and I think that he makes up his slanderous accusations against her to justify to himself that “according to the law” he was in the right.  Mariana on the other hand is driven by her own personal conviction of what’s right and wrong, which allows her to act contrary to the law when Isabella asks her to.  It also allows her to see what drives Angelo and makes her believe that if he experiences the kind of forgiveness that transcends the logic of the law, that he can be redeemed.  What the play leaves to our imagination is whether or not these two sides can be resolved.  For what it’s worth, I think that if Angelo will let himself be truly forgiven by Mariana, they will be able to find happiness within their now lawful marriage.

The Measure of “Measure”: Elbow (and more!)

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In our “The Measure of Measure” series, we interviewed castmembers of Measure for Measure about how they approached their characters in this challenging play. Today we learn about Elbow, First Gentleman, and Singing Boy, all played by one multitalented B&H newcomer!

  1. Who are you and who do you play?aurelia pic

My name is Aurelia Khorsand, and in Measure for Measure, I portray Elbow, First Gentleman, and Singing Boy.

  1. What prior Shakespeare experience do you have?

This is my first Shakespeare production and I’m excited to be a part of it. I’m learning quite a bit about how to study the language and how it is important to truly understand it in order to perform to the fullest. Although I am completely new to performing his works, I have been exposed to the Elizabethan language and culture quite a bit thanks to six years of performing at different renaissance faires across the country, including Virginia, New York, and Bristol.

 Tell us about your characters. What motivates them?

I play characters that all have extremely different attitudes towards the strict culture of the Vienna they live in. Elbow, a simple constable in the words of the bard himself, is a rule follower to the extreme. Deep down, he’s wildly insecure – perhaps he knows he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. But he’s been given a badge and power does strange things to little people, so he takes his position very seriously. In his eyes, any rule-breaker should suffer the full wrath of the law. The world is very black and white to Elbow, even though he sees the laws through rose-colored glasses.

The First Gentleman is on the opposite side of the spectrum from Elbow. To him, the laws are there, but not binding. He does his own thing – if he’s going to go have fun, he’s going to do it how he wants. He almost flaunts his apathy to the authorities – wantonly drinking in front of officers and offering them alcohol. Nothing is taken seriously.

Singing Boy, although a small role, is interesting because he is so removed from what is going on. You have someone that could go down either path – will he be an Elbow or a First Gentleman? How will he interpret the laws and fit into this strict and flawed society? 

  1. You’re one of the few actors in this production playing more than one role. What are the challenges of playing multiple characters? Which character is your favorite?

It’s a delightful challenge to play more than one character, mostly because they are so radically different. Elbow and First Gentleman wouldn’t even be friends in real life – I’m sure Elbow would try to arrest First Gentleman for his debauchery. Their characters need to be conveyed differently not only in their lines but in their physical attitude and reactions to what is going on around them.

Elbow is by far my favorite. He’s just so over the top. Personally, I’d hope to never let myself get that publicly upset, but Elbow has no self-control and just lets loose with his emotion. It’s fun to get that worked up. 

  1. What else do you feel the audience should know about your character and the play itself?

This is a comedy – find humor in it. In real life, there are always Elbows to laugh at and First Gentleman to hang out with. I hope to be a happy medium between Elbow and First Gentleman; taking things seriously and fighting for what is right, but also knowing when to have fun and be free with others. No matter how dark reality seems, look for the light and bring others with you into it.

The Measure of “Measure”: Lucio

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In our “The Measure of Measure” series, we interviewed castmembers of Measure for Measure about how they approached their characters in this challenging play. Our third interview explores the ever-loquacious Lucio.lucio pic

  1. Who are you and who do you play?

Will MacLeod, I play Lucio. Lucio is Claudio’s best friend and tries to get him released from prison by going to Claudio’s sister, Isabela.

  1. What prior Shakespeare experience do you have?

I’ve done several Shakespeare plays before in both leading and supporting roles. I’ve been in mostly comedic shows, but also a few of the tragedies.

  1. Tell us about your character. What motivates him?

Lucio is described in the script as a “Fantastic,” but I think he’s more of an average. He’s the type that’s always up for a good night (or afternoon, or early morning) out on the town, but that’s somehow never around when the bill needs to be paid. He’s opportunistic, immoral, and sly, but always has an excuse ready when things go wrong. He also always has the best stories in any group of people, so that’s probably why they keep him around. He is loyal to his friends, however, and does what he can for Claudio when Claudio is arrested.

  1. Lucio participates in both the comedic interludes with Pompey and Mistress Overdone, and the darker plot surrounding Isabella. How do you switch gears as an actor while still remaining consistent with the character?

I think the key is to remember what Lucio’s ultimate goal is:  to keep having a good time.  Claudio’s arrest and Angelo’s rule of the city directly threaten this.  So, he’s not really a “good” character, but a character who’s aims happen to be served by helping the “good guys” in this particular situation.  He cares about Claudio going free not for any moral reason, but because Claudio is his friend, and his interactions with Isabella are motivated by this.  So, even in the more serious scenes, I’m trying to get across that Lucio is really trying to just get all of this over with so he can go back to having fun.

  1. What else do you feel the audience should know about your character and the play itself?

I like this play because it’s one of the more down-to-Earth Shakespeare plays. It deals mostly with “street” characters, not high-nobility, and it deals with some of the realities of everyday life (like sex and an unfair justice system) rather than high philosophical ideas or cliché romance. I think that helps the audience to identify more with the characters than they do in some other Shakespeare shows.

The Measure of “Measure”: Angelo

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In our “The Measure of Measure” series, we interviewed castmembers of Measure for Measure about how they approached their characters in this challenging play. Our second interview addresses our villain, Angelo.

  1. Who are you and who do you play?angelo pic.png

My name is Glen Hochkeppel, and I play Angelo.

  1. What prior Shakespeare experience do you have?

This is my first appearance in a Shakespeare play, though I’ve directed several of his plays for my students at Stone Bridge High School over the years–Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and Macbeth.

  1. Tell us about your character. What motivates him?

He wants to play God–and be master of every situation. Angelo is handed the reins of power, to enforce the laws as he sees fit. He thinks the Duke’s newly-conferred power has validated his uptight fundamentalism, and feels justified in immediately sentencing a man to death on a minor morals charge. And when the man’s sister, Isabella, strikes his fancy, he can look his guilt right in the face for a moment. But like all hypocrites, he can also instantly re-think the situation, putting himself back in the position of righteousness.

  1. Angelo is one of Shakespeare’s most insidious villains. How do you approach playing such a repulsive character?

Lots of villains don’t see themselves as villains–mass murderers couldn’t thrive if humans weren’t such superb rationalizers of evil. What’s tricky in Angelo is–he has moments of clear vision of his sin, and he is properly aghast. But if you call everything by the right words in your head, you can compartmentalize–or believe you can!–and get through the day very smoothly. Like when Angelo first shares with the audience that Isabella has charmed him: he is more shocked than they are–since he has spent decades imagining himself to be too exalted for such a base feeling as lust. He can’t square his own vision of himself to this low hunger, but luckily lands on the devil as a scapegoat. He then can congratulate himself on overcoming the temptations of the Enemy.

When you have such an extreme worldview of behavior, in one moment, you can flip from extremely “holy” to extremely demonic. And if you want to sin, you know which master you must visit. Angelo can’t console himself that “he’s only human”, overcome his impulses, and do better…like a normal person: he must be in the throes of a pitched battle with Evil. And so he thinks he can satisfy himself only by practically selling his soul to the devil, and letting his passions and bloodlust guide his actions.

I see characters like him almost as two characters –the practiced Politician, nimble at self-justification and blind to self, and the no-holds-barred Dionysian whom the Politician must deny, though he’s always angling for the controls. Luckily, with the direct address of soliloquies, the audience is able to eavesdrop on those moments of self-disclosure, tracing his frightened rationalizations, and contrast it with the highly controlled “political” self Angelo usually portrays.

  1. What else do you feel the audience should know about your character and the play itself?

Shakespeare’s comedies don’t always revolve around such dark characters–this is no Malvolio, essentially a harmless killjoy–as Angelo is immediately issuing orders for real beheadings, and that’s before we even approach sexual assault. Shakespeare creates a Vienna where such crimes can almost play out “safely”; since its duke is such a MacGyver-like puppet master, he doesn’t let his own schemes get completely out of hand, even contriving the usual brace of Act V marriages. But the whole thing is much more uneasy than the end of, say, Twelfth Night. It’s as though he poured the morality play ingredients into the comedy pan…and some might miss the “Punish the Wicked” frosting.

The Measure of “Measure”: Isabella

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In our “The Measure of Measure” series, we interviewed castmembers of Measure for isabella picMeasure about how they approached their characters in this challenging play. First up is our virtuous leading lady, Isabella.

  1. Who are you and who do you play?

I am Leandra Lynn, and I play Isabella. She’s about to become a novice (a nun-in-training) at the beginning of the play.

  1. What prior Shakespeare experience do you have?

Despite having no formal training, I’ve been given the opportunity to play some of Shakespeare’s best and most-remembered roles, most recently as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. I’ve also experienced Shakespeare as a director and assistant director on several productions. As Britches and Hose is a gender-blind theater company, I find that I actually don’t have as much experience playing Shakespeare’s ladies, having only played two women before (and one spoke exclusively in Welsh). There’s also Queen Isabella from Edward II, but that’s technically Kit Marlowe, so…

  1. Tell us about your character. What motivates her?

Isabella is a Ravenclaw. There. I’ve said it.

In all seriousness though, she wants to be a nun, but not just any type of nun. She specifically wants to be a nun of the Order of Saint Clare, also commonly referred to as the Poor Clares. They are a real order, who live their lives away from the rest of the world, studying. These aren’t the nuns that would go out into the world and volunteer. These nuns remain cloistered through life and stay away from men. Isabella wants to be the strictest, most devout nun she can be. Her lines are so beautifully crafted and she speaks about her relationship with God in very moving terms.

There’s so much more to Isabella than just her devoutness. She’s also a sister, and she loves her brother very much. I’m trying so hard not to spoil anything (because people probably haven’t seen or read Measure for Measure). Honestly, her two primary motivations- her relationship with God and her relationship with her brother- are at odds and she has to make a very difficult decision. A modern audience may not think much of the choice that she makes, but she is guided by her morals.

  1. Isabella’s arc is both dark and upsetting, especially for a play that isn’t a tragedy. How did you approach that as an actor?

Isabella is the most challenging role I’ve ever played. I’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort studying the lines and doing research to prepare for this role. Part of my process is to try and anchor my characterization to emotional moments I’ve had in my real life experiences. It is my goal to give the most sincere interpretation of Isabella that I can. Isabella goes to some very dark places, and it’s been a journey to get to what I think is the right emotional place with her. I really feel like I need to thank Dan (the director), Steve (the fight choreographer), Stephen (the aftercare specialist), and obviously Glen (Angelo) for the work we’ve all done on the assault scene.

It’s been a delicate collaboration, and I think it’s a hard scene to watch, but it has to be. Theater can’t just be about the positive side of the spectrum of emotions. As a survivor myself, I think it’s important to show Isabella, and Measure for Measure in general, because she goes through this terrible event and she doesn’t immediately bounce back, but she also doesn’t freeze. And at the end of the play, there’s another big question that the audience is left to ponder: What happens next to Isabella? She doesn’t have any lines that indicate how she’s reacting to the things around her. It’s definitely not a comedic role, even if Measure for Measure is somehow considered a comedy.

  1. What else do you feel the audience should know about your character and the play?

Oh man, there’s a little bit of everything in Measure for Measure. I’m not sure when, but sometime during this production, Measure for Measure became my favorite Shakespeare play. Isabella is just awesome, and she goes through so much, but even if the Isabella plot doesn’t really appeal to you, there are so many wonderful characters and plots to watch. And the live music sounds amazing and the costumes are gorgeous. I’m really excited for people to see this.

“And measure still for measure…”

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B&H’s production of Measure for Measure, opens in just over two weeks! Join us for Shakespeare’s dark and continually relevant problem play.

When Duke Vincentio of Vienna leaves the rigid magistrate Angelo in control of the city, Angelo wastes no time in resurrecting long-neglected laws criminalizing sex outside of marriage and arrests a young man named Claudio. Claudio’s sister, Isabella, attempts to intercede on his behalf, and is forced to make an unthinkable choice between her principles and her brother’s life.

*CONTENT WARNING: Please be advised that this performance contains a depiction of sexual assault. Due to mature themes, this play is not appropriate for viewers under the age of 13.*

The show runs Friday, Aug. 25 and Saturday, Aug. 26th at 8:00 PM, and Sunday, Aug. 27th at 4:00 PM.  All performances will take place at 1st Stage in McLean, VA. Tickets are available for purchase at the door at $15 for adults and $10 for students, seniors, and military with ID.

Questions? Email Managing Director Leandra Lynn at britchesandhose.managing@gmail.com, or send us a message via Facebook.

We hope to see you there!