AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
New York City's Shakespeare in the Park 2011 offered two plays written back to back: All's Well That Ends Well (1603), directed by Daniel Sullivan, and Measure for Measure (1604), directed by David Esbjornson. The summer's theme was "Shakespeare in Bed"--a joke of sorts, since while both plays feature bed tricks, their "problems" preclude the mixture of love and passion that the theme appears to promise. The Public Theatre delivers rich, satisfying entertainment in both plays, embracing their well-known complexities and meeting the challenges of the physical space in ways designed to enhance audience understanding. Using the same basic set and many of the same actors, the productions differ markedly in setting and costume, with AW taking place in the early twentieth century and MM in a kind of generic early modern period.
For those unacquainted with the Delacorte Theatre, the large Central Park amphitheatre is a daunting space, its size such that a resident raccoon habitually strolls onstage, impervious to the ongoing action. Until the set succumbs to the night, the rear of the stage opens onto a pond framed by variegated, textured summer greens and, in the far distance, the Central Park castle. Building from the stage architecture created by set designer Scott Pask, the directors employed various strategies to offset the physical challenges of the large stage. Both productions relied on a midstage trap for the more intimate domestic interiors, for instance the Duke's bedroom in MM (of which more later), and studies (Angelo's in MM, the Countess's in A W, the latter sporting a telephone and desk lamp). In AW a grill rose in the Italy scenes, a transparent wall separating the soldiers' encampment and Diana's mother's kitchen. In the MM prison scenes, a less ornate grill served as jail bars.
The stage has a long balcony running across its width. In MM cast members rolled the staircases as we watched, enlarging or compressing the downstairs space. Frequently the balcony served conventionally to extend the acting space for a given scene, as when passing soldiers, including Bertram, throw roses down to Diana and her sisters in AW. But often more complex use was made of the different dramatic spaces, not only the balcony but also the wide stage itself--use that points to a larger strategy found in both productions. Regularly two different actions proceeded simultaneously, one commenting on or contrasting to the action on the main stage. Sometimes two scenes played side by side. But most interestingly the directors brought in actions mentioned in the text but not allotted scenes of their own. These extra-textual scenes added real texture to the productions and made good use of otherwise empty space. For instance in A W 1.3, the Countess rises in stately manner through the trap and speaks with the Fool and Steward--while Helena, who doesn't come onstage in the text for another hundred lines, listens dreamily to the gramophone on the balcony. At the end of 2.4, Helena, Parolles, and the Fool bandy gibes back and fourth, as nuns (or so they seem) brush out Diana's hair upstairs on the balcony, well before her first scene. Later, we are formally introduced to Diana and her mother at a kitchen table stage right while soldiers play music on harmonica, accordion, and drum stage left. And the director adds a coda to the end of the play; Diana, told by the king to "Choose thou thy husband, and I'll pay thy dower," thoughtfully, slowly revolves around a court full of available males before picking one of the brothers Dumaine, with the scene's choreography distinctly reminiscent of Helena's parallel action in act 2. Simultaneously, on the balcony Helena is once again at the gramophone--but this time with Bertram. They slowly, tenderly, lovingly dance to the music.
Similarly in MM. As the Duke and Friar Thomas speak on the balcony about the Duke's decision to deputize Angelo as governor (1.3), Isabella's hair is being shorn by a nun on the downstairs stage (1.4), with the other nuns screaming and fleeing upon Lucio's arrival. As happens elsewhere, the Isabella tableau freezes during the Duke's speeches. The intermix of these scenes entangles the Duke-Isabella plots well before the two actually meet onstage. And while Angelo and Escalus speak in 2.1 about the importance of not making "a scarecrow of the law," …