A political leader who goes missing. A government crackdown on lewd behavior. A seemingly pious public official caught in a sex scandal. You might think these scenes are ripped from Palmetto State headlines, but they’re actually plot components of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, first presented in the early 1600s and now given a timely revival at Columbia College’s Cottingham Theatre.
Presented by the Cambridge University American Stage Tour (CAST), Measure for Measure is the latest installment in an annual tour featuring a company of Cambridge University’s finest performers and theater technicians. The group’s performances on Thursday and Friday will be its only stop in South Carolina, and its fifth visit to Columbia College.
In addition to their evening performances, members of CAST will interact with students on campus in daytime educational workshops and via question-and-answer sessions after the shows.
“The actors often engage students in interactive techniques for appreciating Shakespeare’s language and stage direction,” says Calley Hornbuckle, associate professor of English at Columbia College. She adds that the CAST members “are great at breaking down a scene with students, and at introducing students to how actors think through a play. These workshops are fun. Students love them, and they learn a lot.”
Set in freewheeling, anything-goes Vienna, and presented in modern dress, Measure for Measure follows Duke Vincentio (Theo Hughes-Morgan), who takes a leave of absence — not to hike the Appalachian Trail, but rather to spy on his subordinates as they bring down the full force of the law onto prostitutes, fornicators, drinkers and gamblers. Rozzi Nicholson-Lailey plays Isabella, a novice nun faced with an impossible choice: surrender herself to the advances of the morally corrupt administrator Angelo (Max Upton) or allow her brother Claudio (Guy Woolf) to face a death sentence. (Claudio’s crime? Sleeping with his fiancé.)
Director Charlie Parham follows Shakespearean convention with most actors doubling or even tripling in lead and support roles, and with gender no barrier to casting. Usually classified as a comedy, Measure for Measure is also considered by many scholars to be one of Shakespeare’s most challenging “problem plays,” i.e., dramas in which dilemmas faced by the protagonists represent a problem also plaguing contemporary society.
Don’t worry — there is plenty of traditional bawdy humor too, provided by Lucio (Hugh Wyld), a bragging libertine, and Mistress Overdone (Max Upton again), a madam with nine ex-husbands.
Past seasons for CAST have included Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Tempest, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra, which have been presented at high schools, Ivy League universities, and professional theatres along the East Coast. Over the past 14 years, and with the patronage of Dame Judi Dench, the Cambridge American Stage Tour has given students the opportunity to tour America while developing their professional theatrical skills both in front of and behind the curtain.
“The opportunity to interact with theater students and the production crew from the United Kingdom is so exciting for our campus community,” says Laurie Hopkins, provost of Columbia College. “CAST does an amazing job with their traveling productions, and we are honored to be one of the venues for their tour of eastern states.”
Performances are at Columbia College’s Cottingham Theatre, and curtain time is 7:30 p.m. both Thursday, Sept. 12, and Friday, Sept. 13. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students, military and senior citizens, and free with a Columbia College ID. Special pricing is available for class groups, though teachers should be aware that the play contains mature themes and subject matter. Reservations are strongly recommended. Box office hours are 2 to 5 p.m. Wed-Fri, and 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. performance nights. Call 786-3850 for reservations or more information.
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