In William Shakespeare’s early 17th-century play “Measure for Measure,” young Isabella begs Angelo, a powerful judge, to spare her brother Claudio’s life.
Angelo agrees, with a caveat. If Isabella, a novice nun, wants Claudio to live, she has to sleep with Angelo. No matter that Angelo has established himself as the face of strict Viennese virtue and sentenced Claudio to death for getting his fiancé pregnant.
If a modern audience is tempted to see Angelo as a familiar fallen chief executive or certain disgraced movie mogul, the team staging the play at Antaeus Theatre in Glendale this month would understand.
“When you look at the play today, the #MeToo movement hits you right between the eyes,” said Elizabeth Swain, co-director of the production, which will run Feb. 21 through April 6 at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, located at 110 E. Broadway, Glendale.
With a small cast of 10, several actors in the upcoming production will play more than one role — a practice reportedly adopted by Shakespeare’s company, said Swain, who has studied the Bard extensively.
Co-director Armin Shimerman is also well-versed in Shakespeare.
Complicating the polarity of the two lead male characters, Claudio and Angelo will both be played by Ramon de Ocampo. Isabella will be played by Carolyn Ratteray.
The directors wanted to tease out the light and dark sides of a single actor, according to de Ocampo.
“Not that you completely excuse one person or another, but it kind of allows the audience to slide in without getting to draw conclusions,” de Ocampo said.
“And I think I couldn’t draw conclusions either,” he added.
Revelations of the #MeToo movement also informed de Campo’s approach to the roles.
While Angelo is often been portrayed a “mustache-twirling lothario,” recent public testimony by women against powerful figures has painted a picture of accused assailants as often more subtle, de Ocampo said.
“I feel like a mustache-twirling lothario can be seen from a million miles away,” he said. “The conversation that we usually hear about is how someone kind of got someone to come into their room by being charming and offering something.”
While the cultural lens Antaeus is employing is decidedly modern, the staging will be relatively classic, Swain said.
Besides shortening the play slightly, Swain said she and Shimerman primarily want the language to speak for itself.
To that end, their direction has mostly focused on achieving clarity of the language, Swain said, adding that she thinks many people get turned off by Shakespeare when the words are not spoken clearly.
“If the play is clear — whatever the play by Shakespeare — modern audiences get the human story,” Swain said.
Low-priced previews begin Feb. 13. For tickets and more information, visit antaeus.org.