Just to be sure that potential ticket buyers know what they’re in for with director Jonathan Munby’s adult-themed staging of Shakespeare’s classic, a warning — in red letters, no less — is posted on the troupe’s Web site.
“Recommended for ages 18 and above,” it says, “but may be suitable for mature audiences, 16 and above. Contains partial nudity, violent and adult situations.”
Sex and violence on the stage are as old as the Greeks, whose tragedies and comedies could be extremely bloody (eye-gouging, anyone?) and remarkably bawdy (see the sex strike in the antiwar “Lysistrata”). For centuries, theaters were often regarded as immoral and profane — dens of vice to be censored and sometimes shut down.
Modern theaters are hardly prudish, of course, even when dealing in classics. Lately Washington has eyed an all-nude “Macbeth” by WSC Avant Bard and a memorably violent “King Lear” at the STC, courtesy of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.
But in the age of the virtual box office, it’s increasingly common for theaters to proactively post a heads-up whenever adult content drapes itself across the wicked stage.
“The benefit of the Web is that you can provide ticket buyers with more information than ever,” says Kennedy Center spokesman John Dow. Movie trailers viewed on cellphones, performance teasers Googled online: these are still-fresh ways that the public interfaces with art before buying a ticket.
“They expect more information than ever because it’s so easily available,” Dow notes.
Porto echoes that. “It’s become something the public is demanding,” he says.
“Measure for Measure” is categorized as one of Shakespeare’s comedies, but its dark plot about a holier-than-thou deputy trying to compromise the virginity of a novice nun makes it one of the Bard’s most troubling plays. Most of the envelope-pushing passages in Munby’s production will occur during a pre-show cabaret set in 1930s Vienna, Porto explains.
“It’s actually a fairly traditional production,” Porto says, even though the guideline is for audiences old enough to vote. “It’s more a matter of setting the tone in a specific way. And like a movie, if there’s one scene where there are naked parts, then the whole thing gets rated that way.”
Last year’s imported “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” at the STC, directed by John Malkovich and featuring a young French cast, came with a red-letter warning about “nudity and explicit situations.” The upcoming “Mies Julie” — a South African adaptation of August Strindberg’s 1888 “Miss Julie,” about a deadly cross-class seduction — is also red-lettered for its “strong adult themes and nudity.” It will be suitable, the STC gauges, for patrons who are at least 16.