Sex and the Bard: Shakespeare's Measure for Measure

Sex and the Bard: Shakespeare's Measure for Measure

Sex and the Bard: Shakespeare's Measure for Measure

Boerum Hill
Beyond South Brooklyn

Walking into the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn for the new production of “Measure for Measure," one encounters sleazy characters that didn’t exist four centuries ago. At least, as far as we know.

A half-naked man accosts incoming theater-goers, pulling on a leash held by a woman. Another man in a leather mask walks up to audience members wielding intimate toys. This sexing up of William Shakespeare's celebrated comedy is at once hilarious — and surreal. It sets the stage for a retelling of the Bard's play, using modern dress married to Shakespeare’s pure and eloquent language. The result is an unlikely marriage of the new, the old and the perverse – and a joy to behold. (Just think twice before bringing the kids.)

Canadian actress Cara Ricketts as Isabella in Measure for Measure


Directed by Simon Godwin, it features a stellar cast including Jonathan Cake, recently seen in Showtime’s “The Affair," as Viennese Duke Vincentio. The gifted Canadian actress Cara Ricketts plays Isabella, with a performance that steals the stage. Her simple reactions to her fellow actors’ lines are engaging and endearing.

Measure for Measure" is a play that I didn't really know, but the production, at the Theatre for A New Audience at the Polonsky Center, was delightful. Purists and newbies alike will get a clear picture of what an authoritarian government might do when one man decides what's right and wrong – something that, perhaps intentionally, resonates in present-day America. With a unique entrance through a backstage brothel into the state-of-the art theater, the "stage" was set for an evening of entertainment. The trip to the inevitable ending was filled with intrigue, death, love, deception – and, amazingly after all this time, surprises.

The play opens with Venetian Duke Vincentio shooting drugs, a seeming nod to today's opioid epidemic that's devastating all demographics. When he awakens the next morning, the Duke tries to find what I believed to be his "moral center." His journey through the decadent underbelly of Vienna leads to his schemes to bring justice to those that he feels Angelo, who ruled in his absence, has wronged with his puritanical beliefs. That the play concludes with a happy ending is striking.

Thomas Jay Ryan as the evil and tyrannical Angelo was terrifying. Absolute power was in his grasp and he threw it away for lust. The fact that he survives at the end of the play is almost disheartening. We can only hope that the love bestowed by his new wife Marianna, delightfully played by Merritt Janson, and the forgiveness of Isabella, will pull him back from the dark side.

Written shortly after the ascension of King James I, the play was performed for the first time in his court on December 26, 1604. It is remarkable how well “Measure for Measure" has stood the test of time, as have all Shakespeare's works, which have been performed continuously around the world since the time of the playwright's death in 1616. It should be noted that Shakespeare did not write stage directions, which allows future generations to interpret his works as they please without losing the beauty of the words.

This is a spirited and engaging remake of one of the planet's great works of art. I look forward to many more.


Find out more information about show schedule and “Measure for Measure" on's HAPPENING Listing





Thomas Jay Ryan as the evil and tyrannical Angelo attacks Cara Ricketts as Isabella
Thomas Jay Ryan as the evil and tyrannical Angelo attacks Cara Ricketts as Isabella