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Review: Measure for Measure 

Anthony Bean Community Theater stages the Shakespeare comedy

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In Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, recently presented at Anthony Bean Community Theater, the Duke of Vienna announces plans to take a trip and leaves Judge Angelo in charge of the city. Angelo then condemns Claudio to death for impregnating a woman out of wedlock, and Claudio's sister Isabella appears before Angelo to plead for her brother's life. At first, the pious Angelo is unyielding, but he becomes attracted to Isabella and tries to strike a sexual bargain with her.

  Though everyone believes he has left Vienna, the Duke (Martin Bradford) has donned a wig and cloak to disguise himself as a friar. The show deals with loyalty and trust, and the Duke wants to observe his closest subjects without their knowledge. Bradford is charismatic as the charming yet mischievous friar. During his reconnaissance mission, he advises Isabella (Christy Williams) to petition Angelo to spare her imprisoned brother Claudio (DC Paul).

  Angelo (Marie Becnel) tires to seduce Isabella, who continually refuses, and Becnel delivers one of the show's most powerful performances as the sanctimonious judge, who privately attempts to exploit Isabella. The judge is a devious character but Becnel gives him nuance, especially in long monologues pondering the morality of his actions. Even in the face of her brother's death, Isabella is determined not to strike a sexual bargain, and Williams makes her fierce.

  During his stint in power, Angelo sentences Claudio and decrees that all brothels be closed. This introduces the show's funniest characters, Pompey Bum (Nike Redding) and Lucio (Frederick Mead). The hunched-over, gangly Pompey is a pimp. Redding wears oversized hands as props and he makes the character lovable. While Lucio seems friendly, he's a trash-talker, and Mead's comedic timing helps land many witty barbs.

  Much of the acting was strong, but a few directorial choices were distracting. Mead served as director and costume designer, and he modernized some costumes — the Duke wears cowboy boots and a director's hat — but others are medieval, and Isabella carries a sword. The show is faithful to Shakespeare's text, but these visual choices seem haphazard. There also are a handful of contemporary cultural references. The undertaker snaps the intro to The Addams Family, but it's a jarring distraction in the pivotal, final scene.

  Before Isabella appears before the court to expose Angelo's machinations, a video screen descends. A black-and-white video segment serves as the production's final 20 minutes. While the Duke carried a camera at times, setting up the switch, this concluding portion would have been better with the actors performing onstage.

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