In ASTA's larger space, Georgetown Classical Theater is performing an impressively studied "Measure for Measure." While the actors are not technically skilled, they are assured and effective in this somber, often neglected Shakespearean comedy.
Director Ken Kelleher has not harmed this study of Christian forgiveness by moving the period up to 1910, twilight of the Hapsburgs. The dress and abstract set create the immediacy of yesterday. Nor is the play demolished by tackling it as "black comedy."
What matters is that the responsibilities of law, religion and individuals are clearly stated and resolved. The comulative effect is especially good in the play's most critical moment when the abused Isabella turns to forgiveness. Despite the calumny of her own traducer, Angelo, Mariana begs: "Sweet Isabel, take my part, lend me your knees" and, timing it perfently, Rebecca Russell's Isabella kneels to plead for the life of the merciless Angelo: "His act did not o'ertake his bad intent."
In "Man's Unconquerable Mind." R. W. Chambers wrote: "No woman in Shakespeare is more individual; silent, yet eloquent, sternly righteous yet capable of infinite forgiveness, a very saint and a very vixen. But, first and last, she stands for mercy."
That was the message dramatized for the newly crowned James I when he saw it performed the sacred day after Christmas, 1604.
Kelleher's firm guidance makes the conflict as clear as G. K. Chesterton's statement about the play. To the remark "There is a limit to human charity," his Father Brown replied: "There is and that is the real difference between human charity and Christian charity." Portian can gain from mercy; Isabella understands that she has lost all.
Louis Pangaro as Vincento, Tom Davis as Angelo, C. A. Duncombe as Lucio, David Heiman as Elbow and Constance Fowlkes as the briefly seen Mariana are among others in the perceptive cast.
Performances of this infrequently attempted play are Wednesday through Sunday nights at 8 through Sept. 9.