Although the marathon of high-profile Shakespeare revivals that consumed the fall theater season is now over, if you have the stomach for more iambic pentameter, two imaginatively conceived and physically scaled-down Shakespeare productions have just arrived Off-Broadway.
The Fiasco Theater, which previously presented the convoluted romance “Cymbeline” with a small ensemble and low-budget aesthetic and received great acclaim, has returned with the dark and sinister drama “Measure for Measure,” which is done with the same actors and in an equally direct style.
Whereas most productions of “Measure for Measure” go to great lengths to stress its threatening atmosphere of abusive power and moral corruption, Fiasco offers a straightforward rendition that was clearly intended to appeal to a wide audience. In fact, the staging is part of the New Victory’s annual season of family-friendly programming.
This is hardly the most dramatically compelling production of the play you’re likely to see. However, it is enjoyable, marking another achievement from Fiasco, which will hopefully continue to make its way through the canon.
Over at the Public Theater, playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney is staging his own adaptation of the tragedy “Antony and Cleopatra” which alters the setting from ancient Rome and Egypt to 18th century France and Haiti. Co-produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, it has already played London with the same cast.
While McCraney adds many distinctive touches including live music and a pool of water at the back of the stage, he emphasizes atmosphere over the text itself. The performances are disappointing, with Jonathan Cake playing Marc Antony like a hammy, drunken frat boy and Chivas Michael failing to imbue Cleopatra with any sense of authority. In all, it is a clumsy and misconceived production that fails to ignite.