Equal measures of comedy and drama

What a pleasure it is to have a classical theater company like A Noise Within in Los Angeles. From William Shakespeare to Henrik Ibsen, no playwright is deemedtoo "high-brow", and its actors' passion for the material is palpable on stage.

Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" has been chosen to launch the 19th season of the company, and even though it was written more than 400 years ago, it still feels modern with its themes of moral corruption and political irresponsibility.

Vienna is the setting, and the Duke (a stirring Robertson Dean) has watched his city fall into sinful behavior. While presumably leaving town on a political mission, he leaves the government in the hands of Angelo (Geoff Elliott), an unblemished man of God. The Duke hopes that Angelo's moral strictness will cleanse Vienna of its ills.

Angelo, however, has his own demons and is unable to resist his sexual urges for Isabella (Karron Graves), a nun seeking a pardon for her condemned brother. It's later revealed that the Duke has never left Vienna, and disguises himself as a friar to spy on Angelo. In his guise, the Duke befriends Isabella and saves her from Angelo's evil intentions.

At times, it's difficult to decipher whether the play is a comedy or a drama, seeing that it has comedic elements sprinkled throughout. In between Isabella and Angelo's tense scenes, there are light moments supplied by the clownish characters Pompey (Mark Bramhall), a pimp, and the Duke's constable Elbow (a hilarious Michael Faulkner). Elbow tends to confuse words a lot, as when he calls Pompey a "notorious benefactor" rather than the intended word, "malefactor." It's clear that Shakespeare wrote Elbow only for comedic purposes. Yet directors Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott are familiar enough with the material not to allow Elbow and Pompey's comedy to overshadow the more serious moments.

Costume Designer Julie Keen deserves much praise for choosing modern attire over the more traditional clothing of Shakespeare's time. The Duke and his adviser Escalus (Mitchell Edmonds) looked like 21st century politicians in their tailored suits. But it was Pompey's flashy get-up that really turned some heads. Attired in a beaten-up leather jacket and billowy purple shirt, he looked as if he just stepped out of a 1970s-era discotheque. And his beret added a Euro-trashiness that reminded me of aging Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. It may not have been intentional, but the similarities between Bramhall and the 66-year-old Richards were striking.

Next fall, A Noise Within will move into a sprawling 33,000-square-foot theater in Pasadena. The new venue will accommodate 300 patrons, and will provide ample backstage facilities and classrooms for its educational program. Glendale will undoubtedly lose a wonderful theater company. In the meantime, A Noise Within is still putting on plenty of great theater right here in the city. And what better way to kick off the classical theater company's final season here than with Shakespeare.

James Famera is a freelance arts critic based in Los Angeles.



What: "Measure for Measure" By William Shakespeare

When: Check the website for specific dates, runs in repertory through Dec. 5

Where: A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale

Tickets: $42 to $46 with group rates and special rates for school groups available

Contact: (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1 or visit http://www.ANoiseWithin.org

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